The Licking Heights Board of Education might follow a trend in central Ohio, instituting pay-to-participate fees for athletes.

The Licking Heights Board of Education might follow a trend in central Ohio, instituting pay-to-participate fees for athletes.

As first reported on March 24, the board voted unanimously in a special meeting March 23 on the employment nonrenewal of athletics director Troy Slattman and assistant Rita Pendexter.

According to Superintendent Thomas Tucker, the elimination is part of a reorganization campaign to save money. The positions of athletics director/dean of students and assistant athletics director would be replaced with one full-time athletics director.

The pay-to-participate fees would depend on the outcome of the May levy. Many other school boards already have imposed such fees, more recently including Gahanna ($200), Pickerington ($500) and Canal Winchester ($600).

Assuming a significant number of students would choose not to participate in sports if a fee were established, the Licking Heights board examined fees ranging from $413 to $517, settling on a proposed fee of $475 across the board.

Board member Mark Loth said it would make more sense to establish different fees for different programs because the costs vary and students' motivation to participate could vary based on the costs in their sports.

"I don't think too many people are going to pay $475 for cross country," Loth said. "We are essentially saying we are picking and choosing which sports are going to survive and which are not."

Board member Matt Satterwhite disagreed.

"That's one way of looking at it, but you can also say that all we can do here is give a chance," Satterwhite said. "We're giving a chance by saying, 'If you want to do it, here is what it's going to cost.' Are there going to be people who can't do it? Yes. Might it kill something? Yes. But the other option was all or nothing. I think we can talk about it. I'd be in favor, this first year, just to say it is across the board."

Tucker said he wanted to avoid assigning different values to different sports.

"I don't want to get into assigning values about how much this sport brings to the program," Tucker said.

"It's hard," board member Sharon Cochrum said. "I think we all realize these are awful decisions. Our prayer is the levy passes and we don't have these concerns. But if it fails, we have to be prepared to at least let the public know this is what we are looking at."

Tucker said his initial idea was to propose eliminating sports altogether, but other superintendents talked him out of doing so.

"My first (intended) proposal to the board was to totally eliminate this because I did not want a situation where some kids could not come forward to pay versus kids who could afford to pay," Tucker said. "After some reflection and talking with some of my superintendent colleagues about what happened when you put on the table to not offer sports at all, they said don't even try."

The board also approved several freezes in administrator contracts, with provisions that further action could be necessary to reduce the contracts if there are further cuts from the state budget in school funding.

"If the levy should fail, there is a contingency that the board could take further actions (in the administrator contracts)," Satterwhite said. "That would be in the contract, but all of these people would have the option to pull out. It lets us reopen the conversation if the levy should fail."

Board members have held extensive public meetings to discuss various reduction ideas, largely focused on staff.

"Five-million dollars from your budget is horrifying," Satterwhite said.

Regarding the reorganization of the athletics-director positions, Tucker said, the district's financial picture played a huge role.

"We looked at those programs that had the least impact on direct instruction," Tucker said. "With the backdrop of fully understanding the positive impact sports and other extracurriculars have on our children, we decided to reorganize the athletic program to make it more (self-sustaining)."

Tucker said he hopes to have a new athletics director named before the end of the school year but probably after the levy in May.

He also said Slattman isn't guaranteed to remain as athletics director.

"Troy and Rita would be more than happy to compete for the position," Tucker said, adding that the administration could hire from within the district or consider outside applicants.