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Saturday, January 20, 2018

WMS set to enact new student activity fee

By Jason Stuart

Ranger-Review Staff Writer

Barring a last-minute change at Monday night’s school board meeting, Washington Middle School students wishing to participate in sports or other school-sponsored extracurricular activities this year will for the first time be required to pay an “activity fee” to do so.

Students and their parents will be given two options. One is a $35 fee for the year which will cover athletic and extracurricular participation and entry to all WMS events, excluding dances. The other option is a $50 fee which also grants the student entry to all Dawson County High School events for the year.

WMS Principal Mark Goyette said the reason for implementing the new fee is simple — the rising costs of maintaining sports and extracurricular programs combined with ever fewer dollars coming each year to local schools from the state and federal governments.

“We’re implementing an activity fee just like the high school has, and the reason is just to offset some of the cost,” Goyette said. “It’s getting more and more expensive for us to fund activities, and the reason we’re doing this is so we don’t have to take so much out of the general fund. Education is not getting more money, so we’re having to be more creative about how we can keep offering these extracurricular activities for kids.”

The cost of maintaining the middle school sports programs is higher than people might think, Goyette added. He noted that WMS has about 15 coaches on staff every year, with each coach earning an annual stipend of about $2,000. That’s approximately $30,000 in cost right there. Add in uniforms, football helmets and pads, equipment and travel costs — all of which cost more with each passing year — and the hit to school coffers starts to become substantial.

“You know, the $35 isn’t even going to come close to covering that, it’s just going to give us a little more funds to buy stuff like that because our kids deserve the best that we can provide for them,” Goyette said.

He added that he fully understands if some parents are upset by the new fee. However, he noted that the cost is still much less than what it costs for kids to participate in sports programs and activities which are not sponsored by the schools.

“Frankly, it’s a fairly minimal cost compared to what parents pay for their kids to participate in the swim team, baseball or softball leagues, AAU football or anything like that,” Goyette said. “(Parents) know that this is very, very minimal cost for them to spend compared to what they’re spending on their own for those kind of things. I think it’s not a huge cost burden upon families.”

He added that if there are any WMS students whose families may struggle to pay the new fee due to financial hardship, he is working to make sure they don’t get left behind. Some teachers have indicated they would be willing to sponsor any kids in that situation, he said, adding that the school may ask local businesses and community members to sponsor kids as well, or the school may simply waive the fee. The details are still being worked out, but the point is that school officials don’t want to see any kid left sitting on the sidelines because they can’t pay the activity fee.

“We are going to set it up for students that have a financial need to waive that fee, because the last thing we want is for a student to not be able to participate because their family can’t afford to pay that fee,” Goyette said. “I think parents who are having financial hardships or concerns can always appeal to me.”

Whether or not the new fee will become a permanent feature or whether it will go up or down next year remains to be seen. Goyette said he would see how it goes this first year and then make a decision from there.

“We’ll re-evaluate at the end of the year for next year,” he said.

As noted, the Glendive Unified School Board will make a final vote this Monday on approving the new fee when they vote on approval of the WMS student handbook for this year.

Reach Jason Stuart at rrreporter@rangerreview.com.

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