CATAWISSA RR - After revising language regarding refunds, "pay-to-participate" was given its final approval on a split vote by the Southern Columbia Area School Board Monday night and will be in effective next school year.

The policy will impact all scholastic sports teams at the junior high and high school levels and certain extracurricular activities.

Superintendent Paul Caputo said Wednesday that with the board approval, putting all the pieces in place will be the task of administrators over the next few months.

"We will be going over the list of activities to see which ones will be subject to the fee," Caputo said. "We are hoping to present our findings to the board at one of the June meetings."

Caputo said for now the consensus is that all students will pay a flat fee of $50 for all activities, except those in which students are graded.

"Certain music programs like band and chorus, where students receive a grade, will be exempt from the fee, while the gospel choir, where students do not get a grade, would be subject to the fee," Caputo said.

Citing studies done by several organizations, including the Pennsylvania School Board Association, Caputo said participation fees between $50 and $100 do not diminish the level of participation of students from sports or activities.

The second reading for pay-to-participate was approved on a 5-3 vote with directors Michael Yeager, John Yocum, Charlie Porter, Charlene Cove and Gail Zambor Schuerch voting yes, and directors Tim Vought, Joseph Klebon and Thomas Reich voting no. A ninth board position remains open.

Refund policy

With members split in the same 5-3 fashion, the board approved a first reading of the policy on March 10, but an expected final approval at the board's second monthly meeting a week later was delayed when girls soccer coach Derek Stine asked the board to reconsider language that said students who voluntarily leave a team or activity would not receive a refund.

The policy adopted Monday clarifies that students who are cut or voluntarily leave a team or activity before the first game or event, if it is the only pay-to-participate activity in which the student is participating, will receive a refund.

The district will make concessions for families with multiple students and will not charge students who qualify for free or reduced lunch programs.

First locally

Southern is the first local school district to institute the policy, but the practice is gaining in popularity. The Pennsylvania School Board Association and Pennsylvania State Athletic Directors Association in 2012 released a survey that reported the number of schools charging a fee for sports and extracurricular programs has more than doubled in just two years.

The board expects to generate $20,000 in revenue provided the fee is $50 per student. According to the policy, all fees will be subject to annual review and possible revision upon the recommendation of the administration and approval by the board.

While pay-to-participate is seen as a revenue generator, the district's project budget deficit for 2014-15 is $650,000 to $850,000, depending on whether a state block grant program is funded.

'Ducks in a row'

Before the vote was taken, some directors said it's time for some sports to get their affairs in order. During Schuerch's activities committee report, directors discussed a student who had not received a varsity letter for his participation in cross country. The student's father attended the committee meeting prior to the full board Monday night to complain.

"From what I've seen, the end-of-year reports from some coaches are very disorganized from the standpoint of who participated, who lettered, and every sport is different in its criteria of who gets a letter," Klebon said.

Under the pay-to-participate policy, Klebon said scholastic sports will be under a microscope with parents.

"There might have been one guy in here tonight, but with this new policy, there could be 10 here next year," Klebon said. "We really have to be careful and get all of our ducks in a row."

The activities committee will meet with the athletic director Jim Roth over these concerns.

In other business

- The board accepted resignations for retirement of secondary English teacher Andrew Ulicny, who has been with the school since 1979, and transitions coordinator Barbara Odorizzi, who has been in that job since 1995. Both retirements take effect at the end of the school year. Also accepted was the resignation of part-time paraprofessional Tracy Sudol, effective April 4.

- Caputo was authorized and directed to study enrollment trends for past years and projected enrollment for the upcoming school year, study past, current and future curriculum and course offerings of the school district, study the overall staffing needs of the school district's upcoming school year and make recommendations to the board concerning staffing, curriculum and program needs for the upcoming school year.

- The board also approved the district's organizational chart and a revision to the school year calendar, making the final day of the school year, Monday, June 9.