Pickerington athletes, band members and others who want to participate in extracurricular activities will have to wait until at least next month to find out if they'll have to fully fund the cost themselves.

Pickerington athletes, band members and others who want to participate in extracurricular activities will have to wait until at least next month to find out if they'll have to fully fund the cost themselves.

Parents, students, teachers and other community members crowded the lower floor and balcony of Heritage Elementary School's auditorium Nov. 16 when the Pickerington Board of Education met for the first time since the Nov. 2 failure of an 8-mill replacement operating levy.

Most came to hear if the board would implement a new pay-to-participate policy, which would require students to begin fully funding extracurricular activities as soon as spring 2011.

The board held off on a decision in order to determine what those fees might be for specific activities, but a number of parents raised concerns about a potential spike in pay-to-participate fees, as well as the potential elimination of music, art and physical education classes for students in kindergarten through sixth grade.

"I know you have tough decisions to make, but before you cut out the music program, please consider my take," said Pamela Fields, who said she has a daughter in a high school band. "Without music, our schools will lose.

"I know I would not have moved here if you did not have what I needed, and the music program is vital," Fields said.

Others, such as U.S. Army Maj. Christopher Curley, opposed a potential plan to implement fully funded pay-to-participate fees this spring. He said this would be an unfair burden on spring athletes, as opposed to those who played sports and participated in other extracurricular activities in the fall and winter.

"I believe the school is operated on a budget that is pre-approved (for 2010-11)," Curley said. "I know that there are a lot of parents that can't afford to pay the types of fees that have been talked about in preliminary discussions."

The school board is considering increasing pay-to-participate fees in response to the failure of the levy, which would have raised annual property taxes by $209.53 per $100,000 of home valuation and generated $7.586-million in new annual revenue.

According to district officials, increasing the fees, making changes to school transportation, eliminating staff and some classes are all necessary in order for the Pickerington Local School District to cut at least $9-million from its operating budget to the budget can be balanced for the 2011-12 school year.

"I have one objective and that is to teach the kids in our classrooms every day," PLSD Superintendent Karen Mantia said. "While I want to do all we can't do it all. With a shortage and the deficit we face, we're going to have to come to some decisions on what we don't have to do.

"By law, we have to balance the budget. Our taxpayers have spoken and we will do what we have to do to balance the budget."

Calls from parents to save music, art and education courses for elementary students, and to limit pay-to-participate fee increases, were roundly cheered throughout the nearly two-hour meeting.

However, board members echoed Mantia's sentiments and said significant cuts will have to be made, even if an operating levy is placed on the ballot and passed in 2011.

They noted that the district's athletics programs, which cost approximately $1.4-million annually, are a logical area to examine for spending reductions through pay-to-participate fees. Additional cuts in other areas loom, board members said.

"Athletics as a whole is $1.4-million of our budget," board member Lisa Reade said. "That's 10 percent of our budget. There's 90 percent that we haven't even talked about. I hate to tell you, it ain't all going to come from cutting buses."

No specific fee increases were presented at the meeting. Board members said they will come up with figures in time for their Dec. 13 meeting, slated for 7 p.m. at Heritage Elementary.

Currently, junior high students in the district pay $135 per year and high school students pay $210 per year to play sports.

High school students pay $160 per year to participate in marching band.

Since August, board members and district officials have said the PLSD would have to cut at least $9-million from its 2011-12 school year operating budget unless new revenue could be generated from a levy.

Those cuts are needed, they've said, primarily because the state provides 51 percent of the district's funding and because Pickerington lacks an industrial tax base.

Also since August, board members have said more than $7-million has been cut from the district's operating budget in the past three years, but state funding to the district has dropped by $4-million in the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years. They've noted state support to the district is expected to drop by at least another $5.7-million in 2011-12.

What wasn't discussed during the Nov. 16 meeting was the possible elimination of up to 43 teachers and 42 staff members, which district officials said would occur if the Nov. 2 levy failed.