School district eyes pay-to-play plan to raise funds |

School district eyes pay-to-play plan to raise funds

Chad Sellmer, Tribune staff writer

Parents of athletes attending school in the Lake Tahoe Unified School District will probably pay about $25 per sport for their kids next year, following action by the board of education Tuesday night.

The board voted on a number of difficult issues during its meeting at South Tahoe Middle School, including heavy staff cuts and other cost reductions in the face of a projected 2003-04 budget shortfall of between $2.7-$3.4 million. The reductions, as well as some revenue-generation methods such as ‘pay participation,’ are expected to save about $2.7 million next year.

School administrators blame a number of factors for the shortfall, including a dramatic drop in student enrollment, Gov. Davis’ proposed state budget cuts for schools and increased operating costs.

Superintendent Diane Scheerhorn said the school district lost 253 students at the beginning of the current school year, which equates to about $1 million in lost state assistance. She attributed this decline to families moving out of the area, as well as the emergence of home and charter schools.

Most of the decline was in the elementary school sector, particularly in kindergarten, leaving school administrators wondering what the future holds for the district.

“We have recognized a trend in our community, a trend of declining enrollment,” Scheerhorn said. “(At this time) it is hard for us to tell — are we going to lose more students? A definite projection is difficult, but it doesn’t look good.”

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As part of its plan to generate more revenue for the district, the board of education voted to raise approximately $25,000 through a ‘pay participation’ schema, also referred to as ‘pay to play’.

“This was a challenge for the board because now we’re reaching out to the community,” Scheerhorn told a crowd of about 150 parents, teachers and students who gathered to hear what was generally expected to be bad news.

Once rumored to be considering a charge of up to $100 per student per sport, administrators scaled back to an amount that works out to around $25 per sport, figuring there are approximately 1,000 student athletes enrolled in the district.

“It looks like it’s nowhere near $100,” said STHS athletic director Don Borges, estimating 700 high school athletes and about 300 in the middle school. “More realistically it will be $25 per sport, but none of this is official yet. As we get a better picture of the budget … I think we’ll get a better idea.”

Borges noted that a similar plan in the district 22 years ago that charged students a flat, $50 transportation fee lasted just one school year due to difficulties in monitoring the program.

Borges also said there has so far been no discussion of cutting any team sports or the maximum number of participants on any given team.

“We have not been asked to reduce our numbers,” he said. “It may be a possibility in the future, but we have not been asked to go down that road yet.”

Some parents spoke out against the pay participation plan. South Lake Tahoe resident Lorri Jack-Williams, a STHS alumni and parent to two, noted that high school athletes are already required to purchase a $25 card which is used for maintaining and upgrading sports equipment.

“This is going to eliminate the kids who can’t afford it,” Williams said. “All students need that opportunity. The best students are well-rounded and this will effect them.”

Scheerhorn said the proposal is not definitive and will probably be reworked over time to take into consideration low-income families and those kids who participate in many team sports. She said the $25 figure was reached by researching other schools. It will include all sports in both the middle school and high school.

As for possible exceptions to the plan, Scheerhorn said those will be looked at over time.

“We will look at reductions,” she said. “We want to work with parents on that.”