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BOLTON — The athletic fees for students participating on Nashoba Regional High School teams is going up, but the decision was not without discussion.
At the Feb. 14 School Committee meeting, members expressed concern about raising rates, especially for families in the bottom one-third of the economic spectrum, but who may not qualify for free-and-reduced lunch. That program determines waiver of user fees.
The user fee for this year is $150 per student per sport, according to information provided by Athletic Director Tania Rich.
The user fee proposal, brought forward by the Budget and Warrant Subcommitee, increases the fee per student to $175 for the first sport, $150 for a second sport and $125 for a third sport, with a $900 family cap. There are three sports that will have a separate fee to help cover costs: Swimming, hockey and skiing.
The average user fee among Mid-Wach League schools, is $210 per student per sport, school officials said.
School Committee member Neal Darcy, of Bolton, who is chairman of the budget subcommittee, said Rich joked that the fee structure had not been changed since she was in second grade.
Based on information collected by Rich, there would be no increase for students who play three sports. The increased fees, based on current participation would bring in about $5,200 more to the district, which would be enough to outfit a team with new uniforms.
There would be no change in middle school user fees, which would continue to be $55 per sport per season, and that would not play into the family cap proposed for high school sports.
Mark Jones, a member of the School Committee, from Stow, who serves on the budget subcommittee, said he voted to bring the issue to the full School Committee, but opposes the proposal.
"I would rather see fees come down," Jones said at the Feb. 14 School Committee meeting. "I am concerned about families in the bottom third, who might not qualify for free or reduced lunch."
Isabel Strongfellow, a high school student from Stow, who is the student representative to the board, said when user fees went up for activities at the school, she did not hear about anyone not able to participate, but suggested that perhaps the Booster Club could help those who cannot afford to play.
Darcy added that the sports system is a victim of its own success.
"Our teams play in a ton of championships," Darcy said, adding, "There is a hefty cost the more successful we get."
Chairman Lorraine Romasco, of Bolton, said she is not comfortable with some of the more expensive sports, like hockey; since the costs are not covered by those playing the sports, some of the user fees collected in other sports help to fund it.
Darcy pointed out that there is a second side to that argument: The football team generates a lot more money than other sports, due to ticket sales, and that money helps to offset the costs of other sports. He said that with Romasco's logic, all that money should stay with the football team, which could have "top of the line equipment."
The motion to increase the athletic user fees passed 5-2, with Jones and Stephen Rubinstein, of Stow, voting no.
The increase has been reduced for the proposed fiscal year 2019 budget, which is still a work in progress.
Business and Operations Manager Patricia Marone said, since the Jan. 20 budget workshop, the administration has been able to reduced the increased spending proposal from 7.38 percent to 5.99 percent. The reductions are coming from: Staffing efficiencies, health insurance, facilities, one out-of-district tuition for a student being brought back into the district, instructional technology and the removal of a capital request for $250,000 for the Nashoba leach field.
Marone said she would would be meeting with the state to see if the leach field project could be put off until the following year.
While the district has $50,000 budgeted for engineering for the project, the work can only be done during the summer break since no one can be in the building while the field is being moved.
Romasco asked what would happen if it could not be put off, and Marone said the towns could be asked to finance the amount over five years through bonds.
The leach field needs to be moved to the back of the property since the discharge area impacts the area surrounding a few water supplies in the area.
The committee still has fine-tuning to do on the proposed budget. The committee plans to hold its budget hearing on Feb. 28. Then the final budget adjustments can be made and the committee can vote and set its assessments for individual towns. Under the regional agreement, the amount needs to be sent to the towns by March 14. The committee tentatively scheduled a March 7 meeting in case members need more time to work on the budget before a final vote.
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