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Northeastern implements pay-to-play

Superintendent says severity of additional cuts depends on tax issue.

Northeastern Local Schools implemented pay-to-participate fees for spring sports to reduce the cost of athletics, and more budget cuts are expected next month, said Superintendent Lou Kramer.

“We are going to make some reductions here in the spring and potentially in August as well, depending on what happens with the (Aug. 7) levy,” Kramer said.

Northeastern faces a deficit beginning in the 2014-15 school year of $800,000 that would grow to $4.2 million by July 2017, unless the district reduces spending or state or local tax revenues increase. A 1 percent income tax will be before voters on the Aug. 7 ballot.

The pay-to-participate fees are $125 for high school sports and $75 for middle school sports, high school cheerleading and marching band. Fees are capped at $250 a year for students and $500 for families.

That puts the district’s high school sports fee at one of the highest in Clark and Champaign counties, according to a Springfield News-Sun survey of local schools. Only Tecumseh charges more at $250 per sport, although Tecumseh caps fees at $375 per family.

Prior to the new pay-to-participate fees, Northeastern was one of only four local districts that did not charge students to participate in sports and other activities.

“We’re facing some deficits, so with the way that the district is made up, with two middle schools and two high schools, athletics are a high expense to the general fund,” said Kramer. “We were looking to recoup those costs and to do it in a responsible way.”

Athletics for the district costs about $650,000 annually, said Kramer. The fees are expected to generate about $100,000 of that.

There was some drop in participation for middle school track, which was a very popular activity for students to try, said Kramer, but no noticeable drop in participation otherwise.

“That’s something that we have watched very closely, and we’ve had conversations with the athletic directors and, at this point, we have some anecdotal, I guess, evidence,” he said.

Last year, the district reduced its budget by $1.1 million, including eliminating 29 positions. The district expects the cuts that will likely come before the board in May for approval to include more personnel positions through attrition.

“Since it’s through attrition, these positions are mainly certified positions, and then (we’re) looking at some combination of administrative positions as well,” he said. “We would lose programs. One of the cuts that we’re looking at, for example, would be industrial arts at Northeastern High School.”

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