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Pay to play the same next year for MSHS sports

When Snoqualmie Valley School District No. 410 school board members voted unanimously last year to implement a $75-participation fee for Mount Si High School after-school sports, band and choir programs, the decision sparked controversy that included questions about which activities should pay and how much.

A year later, the program, unofficially known as "pay to play," has worked out most of its kinks (including the removal of the fee from music programs early in the school year; the fee now only applies to athletics) and brought in an estimated $40,000 extra for the school.

Student participation has not seen a noticeable change because of the fee, noted athletic director and associate principal Greg Hart, who wrote the policy.

The program and fees will remain the same for the 2006-2007 school year, Hart said.

"We don't want to increase the rates every year," he added, noting that the district will review the program regularly for its effectiveness. "If we don't have to increase it, we certainly don't want to."

Most of the money brought in through the $75 fee goes to transportation costs and stipends for coaches and instructors, the main reasons for the implementation of the fee in the first place, Hart said.

"With the rising costs of running extracurricular programs and transportation and salaries, everything was just more expensive," Hart said.

With a school budget of about $400,000, $40,000 can make a difference; it's about 10 percent of the budget, Hart said.

"We're happy with that [amount]," Hart said. "That [did] a lot toward us meeting our budget requirements."

Many neighboring high schools have used participation fees for years, he noted.

The idea came about for the 2005-2006 school year as representatives from the school district were looking into ways to better meet program expenditures.

After looking into Mount Si's budget, the district realized that it was so tight (due, in part, to the unexpected high student population during the 2005-2006 school year), there was not room to add more money for extracurriculars, even though funding needs had increased.

ASB (associated student body) and booster clubs also contribute funds to help pay for after-school program costs.

"We either needed to cut programs or increase revenue," Hart said about the dilemma the high school faced. After a review of what nearby districts were doing to offset their costs and revenues, the fee-based participation approach seemed like the best option, Hart said.

About 525 students paid the fee to play sports last year. (Those involved in more than one sport have a cap amount of $150 per year and families with more than one student participating in athletics pay a maximum of $225 per year.)

The funds collected were pooled into one fund that distributed money as needed.

For those students who qualified for reduced or free lunch - based on federal and state guidelines - the fee was either reduced by half or waived.

Students with other financial hardships were able to appeal to Hart for special consideration. All decisions were confidential.

The same approach to fees will apply this fall, Hart said.

Last year, there were 10 fee waivers and three reduced waivers. Twenty-seven students neglected to pay their $75, but will be obligated to pay it by the fall.

Overall, Hart said that the inaugural year of the program went well.

"I think many people's kids who are in select programs in the community are used to paying quite a lot more," Hart said.

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