Pickerington Local School District student-athletes likely will continue to pay to play next school year, regardless of their sport, and at more than double the current rate.

Pickerington Local School District student-athletes likely will continue to pay to play next school year, regardless of their sport, and at more than double the current rate.

The PLSD Board of Education voted 3-2 on Feb. 14 to continue evaluation of a "flat-fee" pay-to-participate structure for students playing school-sponsored sports in 2011-12.

The board did not set the fees, but they could be as high as $500 per student, per sport. More discussion on the fees is expected at the board's March meeting.

"We want to protect the sports at this point," board President Lisa Reade said. "We don't want to eliminate certain sports because I don't think we should be picking and choosing which sport is the most important sport.

"I think the philosophy we've had all along is to have one fee for sports."

Currently, pay-to-participate fees are the same for all students.

High school students now pay $210 per sport, while junior high students pay $135 per sport.

On Feb. 14, Assistant Superintendent Jim Sotlar offered a scenario in which high school students would pay $500 per sport. There would be no discounts for playing multiple sports, or for families with more than one student-athlete.

Under that plan, the district estimates it would increase revenues from pay-to-play fees from $325,500 to $449,500.

However, Reade said the board is exploring the possibility of lower per-sport fees.

"Right now, we believe the (per-student, per-sport) fee at the highest end will be $500 at the high school level," she said. "Our hope is to bring it down a little."

Junior high pay-to-play fees could rise to as much as $325 per sport.

Board members Lee Gray and Cathy Olshefski opposed the move, favoring a "tiered" pay-to-play fee structure, which would assess different fees for different sports based on how much those sports cost the district to administer and how much individual sports generate through ticket sales.

"A flat fee doesn't take into account what a sport generates in revenues at the gate or how much a sport costs," said Gray, one of two athletic liaisons on the board. "If we're trying to save money, we should know what each sport costs to conduct and we should have incentives for people to find ways to save money for their sport or to raise money for their sport.

"If you have one-fee-fits-everyone, in my mind, there is no incentive to have a coach or booster group come up with ways to cut costs or raise money because it doesn't just benefit their sport."

The tiered plan might have yielded fees as high as $650 per student for basketball, golf and swimming, $550 for wrestling, tennis, baseball, softball and volleyball and $450 for track, football, cross country and soccer. The $450 fee would also apply to cheerleading.

Had that structure been approved, Sotlar estimated it would have generated $406,000 in new revenue to the district.

The flat-fee structure was supported by the athletics directors at both Pickerington High School Central and PHS North.

"That way, everybody is paying the same fee," said Pete Laihr, PHS Central athletics director. "Just because an athlete is talented in one sport, why should they be forced to pay a higher pay-to-participate fee over another sport?

"You have to look at the whole high school athletic program as one, and not 20 individual sports. We're here to help each sport and not just this one or that one."

According to Sotlar, athletics programs cost the district approximately $1.5-million annually. The bulk of the costs come from coaches' salaries and transporting athletes to events.

Sotlar said 1,686 high school students played school sports in 2009-10, and 1,100 students participated at the junior high level.

He estimates those numbers will drop to 1,550 and 988, respectively, next school year.

"We know we're going to lose some kids because of these increased fees," he said.

Board members are seeking to reduce athletics costs as part of a decision to cut $13-million from the district's 2011-12 budget. Those cuts are needed, they've said, to balance the PLSD budget after decreases in state financial support which represents 51 percent of the district's total funding rising education, salary and benefits costs and a drop in local tax collections.

Currently, the district's 2010-11 budget is approximately $100-million.

To date, the board has authorized cutting or reducing about 100 positions for the 2011-12 school year, including the elimination of 87 teachers' jobs.

Also on Feb. 14, the board announced plans to reduce or eliminate 22 high school coaching positions in 2011-12.

The move is expected to affect only assistant coaches, Sotlar and Reade said, and would save the district about $100,000, depending on which coaches are reduced or eliminated.

Reade said the board also is developing new transportation guidelines for school sports, which could reduce or eliminate busing to events for teams with fewer participants.

New pay-to-participate fees for fine arts activities, such as marching band, also are expected to be announced prior to the next school year.