School district proposes participation fee for athletics |

School district proposes participation fee for athletics

Chad Sellmer, Tribune staff writer

The Lake Tahoe Unified School District will discuss a proposal to charge athletes a participation fee to compete for the school next year as part of a sweeping array of revenue-generating ideas in the face of declining enrollment and a budget crunch stretching into millions of dollars.

No specifics of the plan were revealed by LTUSD Superintendent Dr. Diane Scheerhorn on the eve of today’s school board meeting.

However, she did say the issue of the participation fee is part of the 2003-04 proposed budget plan, up for public discussion at 5 p.m. before a closed-door meeting between the five-member school board, other education officials and labor negotiators.

The meeting is at South Tahoe Middle School in the multi-use room. The board will reconvene in open session at 5:30 p.m. and vote on proposed reductions in programs and the intention to dismiss certified and classified employees.

The participation fee, rumored to be upward of $100 per student, per sport, is tied to problems within the school district that include a local revenue shortfall of $1.7 million, which is associated with a state budget shortfall estimated at $35 million.

“The plan involves many types of revenue generation,” said Scheerhorn, who is in her third year with the district. “There has been discussion about it (fee). Without disclosing any information from the plan, I can say that most community members, staff and administration have (been involved).”

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Scheerhorn said she wasn’t aware of any past efforts to charge athletes a fee to participate in sports, but that the proposal is part of a large budget package.

“It is very comprehensive,” she said. “(I cannot discuss it) until the final proposal is presented and the board votes on it. Then it will go public.”

Tasma Wilvers, the mother of two South Tahoe High School athletes, said the proposal to charge a participation fee “isn’t surprising” due to the well-publicized shortfalls in the district budget.

“It doesn’t surprise me that they’re thinking of going that way because they’ve got to get money from somewhere,” Wilvers said. “I would have to see how they’re going to do it because most all sports already have fund-raisers, where they raise their own money for travel and equipment. I would want to know who will be in charge of the fund and distribution of it.”

Wilvers said she understands how the cost of sports could be catching up to the school. Her kids play football, baseball, cross country and track at the high school.

“I can understand them trying to get it from the parents because not all kids play sports, so not all get the benefit of that,” she said.

As long as the fee is reasonable. South Tahoe Middle School teacher/cross country coach Syd Brown said if the fee reaches the rumored $100 per student per sport, the numbers for each program could suffer.

“Our numbers are pretty good, but if they have to pay to run, I’m not sure we’re going to get 40 to 50 kids,” said Brown, who has coached cross country running for the past 14 years at the school. “The single-parent families and the parents working two jobs to make ends meet, they are going to get rid of luxuries (such as sports).”

Don Borges, athletic director at the high school, said he has not been informed of any specifics regarding to ‘pay-to-play’ plan. He noted that the school attempted a similar plan “quite a few years ago” by instituting a $50 transportation fee, but that it became unwieldy and impossible to properly monitor and was soon discarded.

“We went through one year of this type of scenario,” Borges said. “It was very difficult to monitor as to who pays and who doesn’t, and who qualifies (for assistance). There are going to be some families that are unable to afford this and then you get into the problem of do we scholarship those people and what is the limit? It’s not going to be a pretty sight and there are going to be some ugly hardships out there, (but) the school is going to have to deal with a lot of hardships.”

Borges could not comment on any specifics of the plan, since he has not been provided with any details from school administrators.

“I can’t really comment because I don’t know what’s coming down the pipe,” he said, adding that most of the cost of athletics is in transportation. “Thank goodness we’re in Nevada (for league play), because if we were in California we would travel a lot more.”

— Tribune Sports Editor Steve Yingling contributed to this story