Middle-school sports fees rejected by trustees

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Sports still are free at Kalispell Middle School.

That’s the verdict after a school board vote Tuesday night. Trustees had considered implementing a $25-per-sport fee and had discussed whether to cap the amount one student had to pay or how much a family should pay, Superintendent Darlene Schottle said.

Charging students to play could have brought in anywhere from $15,000 to $19,000, depending on how many students participated, Schottle said. That could have helped alleviate the $603,000 shortfall the elementary district faces in 2010-11.

But trustees decided the price of a middle-school pay-to-play policy was too high. It might have prevented future athletes who hadn’t yet discovered their talents from trying a sport.

“Students who might not already know they had that skill level might not try it,” Schottle said. “They wanted the opportunity for middle-school students to participate at no cost.”

While the decision is good news for middle-school athletes and their families, it does leave the district the challenge of trimming from the budget the money the pay-to-play policy would have brought in.

“It’s tough because we could have to go back in now and look at the possibility of a reduction in force. We do have to have a balanced budget,” Schottle said.

The board did not decide Tuesday how to make up for the pay-to-play revenue, she said.

Kalispell Public Schools had hoped voters would approve a $338,000 levy last spring to ease the 2010-11 budget deficit. But the levy failed by 226 votes in May.

The district has proposed cuts organized by priority level.

Tier One cuts — including eliminating wage increases for administrators (at schools and at the central office) and trimming the curriculum, substitute and operations and maintenance budgets — would carve about $250,000 from the budget.

The middle school pay-to-play option was included in Tier Two. Cuts at that level include reducing grounds personnel, slashing the middle-school travel budget by $6,000 and using $100,000 in program retention funds — rainy-day money the district set aside years ago.

Tier Two cuts, without the pay-to-play policy, would save the district about $229,000.

Trustees also have discussed several options in Tier Three reductions. All possibilities presented at that level total about $342,700. Some of those options include eliminating personnel.

The school board will vote on the final 2010-11 budget Aug. 10, Schottle said. Trustees likely will hold a work session before that to review the budget’s most recent draft.

Reporter Kristi Albertson may be reached at 758-4438 or at kalbertson@dailyinterlake.com.

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