Fort Mill Times

School user fees hit sour note at Fort Mill School board meeting

FORT MILL TOWNSHIP - High school and middle school athletes will have to pay a $50 fee next school year to play on school teams.

The fee is intended to help the school district offset transportation costs for the athletic programs, which will save enough money to hire two more teachers. Based on the number of students participating in school athletics last year, Assistant Superintendent Leanne Lordo said the fee should raise approximately $85,000.

The school board Monday night narrowly rejected a similar $25 fee for band suggested by board member Patrick White on a 3-2 vote.

"With the sports fee, we're making a judgment: Do we want to spend $85,000 on sports or teachers and let the parents pay a usage fee?" White said.

"I also would like to see a partial fee to band parents, maybe $25 on band, a modest, token amount."

Lordo said a $25 band fee could generate approximately $12,000.

Board members Dianne Dasher and Martha Kinard argued that unlike the athletic programs, students in band get class credit and are required to travel for their grade, and that a majority of the traveling is to and from football games.

According to Lordo, the middle and high school athletic programs account for 85 percent of the district's activities transportation costs. Band accounts for 15 percent, she said.

However, as White pointed out, if the athletic cost was broken down into fuel costs for each program, it would look more uniform across all the programs. In fact, at 15 percent, the transportation cost for the band programs eclipses at least some of the athletic programs, of which there are more than a dozen.

White and board member Michael Johnson also pushed to add a $25 fee for students who live within a half mile of their school and ride a bus. South Carolina does not require districts to provide bus service for students living that close to their school, but the district offers it.

"It's a safety issue," Kinard said. "You don't want those kids crossing [Hwy.] Business 21 or Harris Road."

She added that most of the students who live within a half mile of their school attend Riverview Elementary and many of them are from low income families and qualify for the free and reduced lunch program.

"That $25 works out to like 14 cents a day," Johnson countered. "At some point we've got to get revenue into the classroom. Act 388 isn't going to get any better," he said, referring to the legislation that took away school districts' right to tax primary residential property.

"We've got to get our minds around the concept that if it's not necessary, we've got to eliminate it or charge a fee for it."

Board Chairwoman Jan Smiley sided with Dasher and Kinard, and voted against the band and bus fees. Board members Lewis Graham and Wyndie Havnaer were absent.

The exchange left White warning that there will be fallout from the decision from parents of athletes asking why they have to pay a fee when band parents don't, and suggested the board was treating the band like a "sacred cow."

"This is about the mission of this school district, which is to put teachers in classes with numbers [of students] small enough to learn," Johnson said.

"I think this vote ought to be about putting teachers in classrooms, not a turf war between sports and band."