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Nashua school district looks at raising athletic fees

By Barbara Taormina
Union Leader Correspondent

March 23. 2014 9:03PM

NASHUA — The board of education is considering an increase in athletic fees to rein in next year’s budget and avoid cutting teachers, counselors and other school staff.

On Saturday, board members began chipping away at Superintendent Mark Conrad’s revised $101 million budget proposal, which is $4 million, or roughly 4 percent, more than last year. At the start of this year’s budget review, Mayor Donnalee Lozeau asked the board to keep this year’s increase in spending to 2.1 percent.

At the request of board members, Conrad compiled a list of possible cuts that included teachers, guidance and career counselors, technology and library books that would knock $1 million of the budget’s bottom line.

But before taking on those cuts, BOE member David Murotake proposed increasing athletic fees to cover 35 percent of the roughly $1 million the district spends on middle and high school sports. High school students currently pay fees that range from $50 for track to $500 for ice hockey as part of a plan approved in 2010 to cover 25 percent of the athletic budget with user fees.

Murotake, who failed to convince the board to increase athletic fees last year, stressed there are no laws requiring school districts to provide sports programs.

“I think we need to start looking at 35 percent,” he said, adding it would be up to the administration to determine the specifics of how the fees are assessed.

“I think this is a topic that should be up for public comment,” he said.

While several members said they would rather raise fees than cut teachers, the board voted to table Murotake’s motion so the administration could have time to look at the costs and benefits of an athletic fee hike.

Conrad did say a hike in fees would trigger a decline in participation that could offset any financial gains. In 2011, the first year athletic fees kicked in for Nashua students, schools did see a decline in the number of students signing up to play on different teams. Participation has since increased to roughly the same level it was at before fees were charged.

Murotake said athletes and their parents generally support fees, particularly since the school grants waivers for students from low-income families.

“When you have some skin in the game, you tend to be more committed,” he said, adding that the fees are often guarantees students will show up for every practice.

While the board put off any decisions on athletic fees, members did vote to cut $50,000 from the $600,000 technology budget after Conrad said the reduction wouldn’t affect Common Core-based Smarter Balance assessment tests, which students will take online starting in the spring of 2015.

They reduced the secretarial staff at the high school by cutting two positions and voted against hiring a new part-time teacher to support students in the English Language Learner program. They also cut $30,000 earmarked for classroom libraries in the middle schools and $100,000 from the $1.6 million allocation for classroom supplies and equipment.

Those cuts leave the school budget with a 3.7 percent increase that the board will continue to tackle as it works toward the final public hearing and vote on the budget, scheduled for April 3.

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