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Fee to Play at Bridgewater High School: $100 Per Sport

Board of Education approves an activity fee that will apply to students participating in certain middle and high school clubs, and high school sports.

Plan to play sports at Bridgewater-Raritan High School this year? Prepare to pay at least $100.

That's the fee for participation in just a single sport under a new policy adopted by the Bridgewater-Raritan Regional School District Board of Education Tuesday night; it'll cost another $100 for each additional team a student joins. The board also put in place lesser fees for most school clubs.

The move came as part of a plan to help pay for school sports and activities after voters shot down this year's proposed school budget, prompting cuts that, without the fees, could have meant the elimination of several after-school programs.

After the budget failed, the district eliminated enrichment programs in the elementary and intermediate schools, as well as extracurricular activities at the middle school. Sports remained at both the middle and high schools, but a suggestion had been entertained to eliminate ice hockey, the most expensive sport offered at the high school.

The activity fee was designed to prevent that elimination, and bring back activities at the middle school.

"The goal had been built into the 2010-2011 budget with a provision for pay-to-play," said Bridgewater-Raritan High School Principal James Riccobono, who chaired an activity fee committee created to discuss the fee. "We solicited teachers, students and citizens."

The $100 fee will also apply to the marching band, including members of the rifle squad and color guard, and cheerleading.

A $25 flat fee applies to middle and high school clubs and activities for which the district pays stipends to advisors. That fee only has to be paid once, regardless of how many activities a student participates in. Clubs for which stipends are paid include Fall Drama Production, Key Club, School Newspaper, National Honor Society, Robotics Team and Student Council.

"The committee felt that it would be reasonable to charge per sport due to the relatively higher expenses for athletics and certain other activities, and to charge a smaller amount for clubs and middle school activities," said Howard Teichman, a member of the activity fee committee. "The specific amounts were designed to produce total revenue in an amount of at least $144,000."

Riccobono said the $144,000 was mostly an arbitrary number, but that the Board of Education had been looking for ways in which to accumulate revenue in some way after having to cut another $1,037,000 from the budget after it failed. Instead of having the middle and high schools provide 100 percent funding for certain activities, he said, the board decided to collect fees to offset some of the costs.

Riccobono said the committee looked at the figures of how many people have been participating in sports and other activities to determine what fees would be reasonable in order to reach the set goal of raising $144,000.

Data from the 2009-2010 school year showed that the total number of participants in sports at Bridgewater Raritan High School was 1,452, and, he said, about that same number is expected for the upcoming year.

As for the clubs themselves, Riccobono said the district has never kept that kind of record, so the committee solicited information from advisors to determine a rough estimate of the number of students who participate.

Riccobono said the committee opted not to charge $100 for participation in sports at Bridgewater-Raritan Middle School because of the different natures of the activities between the middle and high schools.

"At that formative stage in middle school, we want kids to participate in the sports," he said. "In addition, the intensity of the program is not as much as in the high school, it is a more modest program."

With the projections made, according to the committee's report, the district is estimating to take in $146,795 in revenue from the activity fees.

According to the committee's report, the figures also take into account the stipulation that those qualifying for free or reduced lunch programs in the schools can have the activity fees waived.

To determine the fees, Riccobono said, the committee looked to other nearby townships' plans for pay-to-play programs, as well as the scope of activities to be charged for, administration of the programs, waivers needed and family costs.

The activity fee committee also discussed the possibility of placing a cap on how much a family is required to pay if it has multiple students in the schools at any one time. When the committee report was submitted to the Board of Education, its policy committee opted to institute a $750 cap limit for each family paying activity fees.

"It may cause hardships for some families without the cap," said board of education member and policy committee chairman Al Smith. "This is a provision for hardships, and it came from the policy committee."

But board member Lynne Hurley made a motion to remove it from the policy.

"I don't think there will be an instance where someone will have seven kids in the high school," she said. "Because this is unknown territory anyway, we're going to address this policy again after a year, and I think it will need fine-tuning."

Smith said he is still in favor of the cap, and would have actually preferred a lower one, but the consensus was for $750, despite it being an arbitrary number.

"I cannot support an open-ended policy," he said. "Someone will wind up with a $1,200 cost."

With a vote of 3-2, the cap stipulation was stricken from the policy, and the activity fee passed without it with a 4-1 vote.

Although it was not recommended by the activity fee committee, Teichman said a cap was discussed and he understands why the policy committee would try to institute it.

"I think it is reasonable that the board considered the recommendation of the advisory committee and decided to stick with what was recommended (without the cap)," he said. "I also think that the idea of a cap is something that should be considered for future years, especially if the board finds it necessary to increase the fees in the future."

Now that the policy has passed, Riccobono said, letters will be going home to parents explaining the policy. Payments for high school sports will be required before the first practice, and payments for the other activities will be due at the organizational meeting of the first club a student joins during the academic year.

Riccobono said he does not fear that students will not join clubs or sports because of the payments required.

"This is just part of how things are going," he said. "Parents are used to paying fees for recreational programs. Some parents will be relieved to know that the sports are still there. What will be hard is people saying that they have never had to pay for this before."

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