South-Western City Schools to maintain 50% reduction in fees for 2021-22 school year

Alan Froman
ThisWeek group

Families in the South-Western City School District will get a break on fees again next school year.

The school board Feb. 8 approved reducing fees by 50% for the 2021-22 school year. The same discount has been in place for this school year.

Bill Wise, South-Western City School District superintendent

"We originally reduced fees (for 2020-21) because we had a good sense that with the pandemic, a lot of our programs wouldn't be able to be offered at the same level or at all," Superintendent Bill Wise said. "We knew we were going to continue to have reduced in-person time for students. Marching band, for example, had its season canceled and students couldn't travel to competitions."

Reducing the fees was a question of fairness and value for the activities that were going to be offered, he said.

COVID-19 conditions seem to be easing, Wise said, and although uncertainty remains about what the pandemic's impact will be in the fall, "we're expecting our programs and activities will be closer to normal next school year."

The decision to continue the 50% reduction is a recognition that many South-Western families are continuing to struggle financially during the pandemic, he said.

"A lot of our parents are having to take second jobs or are having tight money situations right now," Wise said. "We don't want school fees to be too much of a burden for them."

The 50% reduction applies to all students and to all fees, including pay-to-participate fees, he said. 

With the reduction, the K-12 student instructional fee will be $10.

The pay-to-participate fees will remain at $37.50 for middle school athletics and $75 for high school athletics (per sport, per student); $5 for clubs, including In the Know, student council, Key Club, mock trial and dance team (cost per club); and $50 for high school marching band.

The family cap for pay to participate for the school year is $250.

The school board voted 4-1 to approve the 2021-22 fee schedule.

Board member David Donofrio said his vote against the measure was dissent on continuing the pay-to-participate fees, not the other fees.

As he has for the past three years, Donofrio proposed eliminating the pay-to-participate portion of the fee schedule.

David Donofrio

"The pay-to-participate fees pose an unnecessary burden on students and families in low-income areas," he said. "The district has enjoyed great fiscal strength for well over a decade now, and other sources of income will more than offset the less than $500,000 generated by the participation fees."

In talking to families from all four high schools, Donofrio said, removing the pay-to-participate fees "consistently ranks among the top desired changes for the district."

The fees were installed after the district's successful levy campaign in November 2009.

Previous levy defeats had led to budget and staff cuts and then finally to the elimination of athletics and other extracurricular activities when another levy failed in August 2009.

The November 2009 levy campaign included a promise that students "would have skin in the game" and would be charged fees to participate in sports and other activities so that the entire funding burden would not be placed on taxpayers, Wise said.

To eliminate the pay-to-participate fees would be to break that promise the district made to voters in 2009, he said.

"I think it's important that we keep our word that we made back then," Wise said.

Donofrio said he understands the fiscal difficulties the district had faced in the late 2000s and that the pay-to-participate fees were a compromise offered to the community. But most of the parents from that time are empty nesters now, and thousands of new residents have moved into the district since then who were not part of the levy campaign, he said.

"Times have changed, and opinions have changed," Donofrio said.

Grove City High School basketball coach Eric Saxton said he does not recall an instance during years as either an assistant or head basketball coach that the pay-to-participate fee has prevented a student from playing on the team.

Eric Saxton

A few basketball players over the years have used scholarship money they had received from the Success Beyond the Classroom Foundation to pay fees, he said.

The SBC Foundation was created to raise funds for scholarships awarded to South-Western students to help offset the cost of participation fees for athletics and marching bands. Students could apply to receive scholarships to cover up to 75% of a participation fee.

"As a parent who has had children participate in travel sports, I can tell you the cost of a travel sport was much greater than the fees for playing sports at Grove City High School," Saxton said.

Westland boys basketball coach Rob Hayes said he has noticed what seems to be a trend of fewer students trying out for basketball.

Rob Hayes

"Whether that's due primarily to financial reasons or there are other reasons involved, it's hard to put your finger on it," he said.

In general, at Westland, "if a kid wants to play, we find a way to make it happen," Hayes said.

In addition to the foundation, members of the Westland community have donated money to sponsor players and cover their fees when needed, he said.

"It's something that community members have gotten together on their own to do," Hayes said.

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