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Fee Increase Approved For Student Athletes

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The following is part of a transcript from the Jan. 12, 2015 Westford School Committee meeting. For links to the rest of the meeting, click here.

8:36 p.m. – The agenda then went to school fees.

The first slide from a presentation on Jan. 12, 2015
The first slide from a presentation on Jan. 12, 2015

Westford Academy Athletic Director Dan Twomey and Westford Academy Principal Jim Antonelli came before the board.

Twomey’s presentation consisted of an overview, athletic fees and the “family cap analysis.”

The athletic program includes Westford Academy and the two middle schools. At Westford Academy there are 33 programs with 65 teams and several hundred participants.

Half of the athletics budget comes from an appropriation and the other half comes from athletic fees and ticket sales at sporting events.

The appropriation is approximately $500,000 and the revolving fee account is approximately $500,000.

The revolving account for fees pays for a variety of things ranging from stipends for coaches and facility rentals for off-site venues to medical supplies and transportation costs.

The largest expense is “supplies,” which takes up $130,000 (26 percent).

Each year approximately $300,000 of the fees comes from Westford Academy and $100,000 comes from the middle schools.

Over the past several years, it has cost $225 with more fees for hockey, swimming, skiing and golf.

8:45 p.m. – In the Dual County League there are 11 schools, six schools have fees and two have caps.

Other nearby non-league schools vary regarding fees and family caps.

Most with fees range from $100 to $400 with most between $200 and $300 and supplemental fees for certain sports.

Fees range from the base $225 for some sports to $650 for boys’ ice hockey.

A fee increase has been requested due to increased transportation expenses, a lack of supplies that have not been replaced and higher rates for officials.

There are also safety concerns for the weight room.

An increase of the base fee at Westford Academy from $225 to $275 would increase receipts to $50,000 and an increase of $225 to $240 at the middle schools would raise receipts to $7,000 and keep the program funding itself.

The presentation then went to family caps.

This cap depends on participants, which revolves around student participations on teams. So if one student is on three teams, it’s three participants.

85 families have four or more participants, 13 have six or more and the highest was nine.

This includes middle school and high school.

If there’s a $1,000 cap with a $275 base fee, it would add only $20,000 over what the schools get now.

With a $1,000 cap with a $225 base fee, it would cost approximately $8,000.

A cap would give relief for families, but it would be hard to project as it’s only for students who make it onto teams.

The caps would likely only be able to be found in the spring. It also is unclear what the impact of fees are if a cap is introduced in the same year as a fee increase.

8:57 p.m. – School Committee Member Margaret Murray asked for confirmation that the fees were for relief on rising costs and noted the point about the cap and fee.

She said she would support a $1,200 cap and hoped for a lower fee hike.

School Committee Chairman Tom Clay said the cap and fees should be addressed separately.

School Committee Member Angela Harkness praised Antonelli and Twomey for their work for the 1,400 student athletes in Westford and it’s part of expectations for students not just to be good students, but good citizens.

Since this is part of expectations, it’s unfair to ask parents to pay more than they can afford.

She also noted that if there is a cap, there may be more participation.

Clay noted that if the cap goes down, the average fee price will go up, which also isn’t fair.

School Committee Member David Keele asked how many times where there was a student who wanted to participate in a sport but could not due to financial circumstances.

Antonelli said that had never gotten to his level.

Murray said a call might not be made.

Twomey said that athletes getting free or reduced lunches have fees waived and special requests for parents who have lost jobs combine to about $4,000 to $5,000 lost in fees.

Keele said it’s been very clear that no student will be denied to be on a team due to financial constraints under School Committee directives.

School Committee Member Terrance Ryan supports the cap, but said he’s struggling with this overall.

School Committee Member Arthur Benoit asked how many of the families that would be hitting the cap are included in free or reduced lunch figures.

Antonelli said that there are 23 students out of 1,700 at Westford Academy.

Benoit said that in his family, his parents wouldn’t have accepted no fees out of pride and there may be parents like that.

He also said there are students like him who made athletics the core of their educational experience.

Keele asked if parents could make a contribution to the revolving fund to provide monies for families that don’t have the ability to pay fees.

Antonelli said a $1,000 check was given for any students that can’t participate in the class Disney trip.

Keele said that Westford is a giving community. He also said these programs must be paid for.

Twomey said he recommended doing the fee increase this year and re-examining the family cap next year once data is in place.

Harkness asked to look at the issue next year regardless of data due to families who are teetering on the edge of letting their children participate.

Clay also noted that ability to pay does not related to how many kids a parent has, so the cap won’t entirely solve the problem.

He noted that there seems to be a proposal for a fee increase without a cap.

Murray asked if the fee could be somewhat lower, perhaps $260 instead of $275.

Keele said $260 was the same as $275. Antonelli said that the $275 figure was proposed so additional hikes won’t have to be made.

Murray proposed about partial scholarships.

9:14 p.m. – Keele said many people involved in the athletic program are guidance counselors, so they already do some partial scholarships, but more can be given.

Benoit asked if a box for donations to a scholarship could be put on registration forms.

Keele made a motion to support the recommended fee raise from $225 to $275 and that Twomey would come back with a mechanism for parents to donate to a voluntary scholarship fund and Twomey will come back next year with supporting data to support keeping the fee at $275 and whether a cap is needed or not.

Murray asked about the funding and Ryan asked for an amendment to make sure that also included the middle school.

The motion was approved unanimously.