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Lakewood athletic transportation fee is on hold

HEBRON – A controversial Lakewood Schools athletic transportation fee is on hold as a committee works to find alternatives.

School board members proposed enacting a $50 per student, per sport fee, effective next year to help cover transportation costs. However, amid objections from several people, including Lakewood Athletic Director Bo Hanson, board members voted unanimously to table the fee for a month to allow a committee headed by Hanson to find another means of paying for students’ transportation to and from sporting events. The committee also includes Athletic Boosters President Mark Nichols, residents Steve Thorp and Bill Gulick, and parent, Jon Eichenlaub.

Previously, Hanson asked board members about options for paying for athletic team transportation. Covering transportation expenses became the athletic department’s responsibility when the district trimmed $1 million from its budget last year. Simply put, Hanson said the athletic department depends upon money from ticket sales to cover expenses, and there’s not enough money being generated to pay for everything. He wondered if the district could cover some of the expenses from the general fund. Hanson wants to avoid charging students a fee if at all possible.

“This hasn’t been looked at close enough to enact a fee right now,” Hanson said to board members during their June 8 meeting. “We haven’t looked at ways to cut costs.”

“It’s not our position to pay for transportation,” said Nichols. He said he believes the timing is bad to impose a fee so soon after the district passed a 9.9 mill levy last November. He wondered if student athletes could opt out of transportation. “If not, it’s pay to play,” said Nichols. “I believe you’ve changed yes voters into no voters.” He said the athletic boosters are struggling financially, too.

Eichenlaub said he was “instantly furious” when he first heard of the proposed fee. “In doing this after a levy, it will be many, many years before another levy passes,” he said, adding that a fee should only be enacted after every possible alternative is explored.

“Maybe we ought to table this for a month or two” while looking other ways to raise money, said Gulick.

Thorp favors the fee. “Fifty dollars at this time is probably fair,” he said. Some Lakewood games are not well attended and concession sales and so forth won’t fund the athletic department. “We need to get it done now. We can’t wait two months,” said Thorp.

Hanson asked the board to delay voting on the fee until there is a full board present; former board member Joe Bowman, Jr. tendered his resignation prior to the June 8 meeting and his position remains empty. Hanson fears that a fee will discourage students from joining sports programs.

Board member Forrest Cooperrider said it’s nearly imschool possible to predict at this point how much money the district will have in the upcoming years as the State of Ohio determines how much it will continue to fund public schools and the district is heading into teacher contract negotiations. The only thing he’s sure about in the coming years is the district will have higher expenses and less income. “We have to look at every penny we can look at right now,” he said, adding that he doesn’t like the fee, but the district can expect a financial crunch during the next several years.

Hanson suggested that transporting students to the games, and then relying on the parents to pick them up afterward would save the district money, but that was only a suggestion.

“Would the parents support it?” asked Cooperrider. Hanson believes parents would rather do that than pay a fee. “I’m not saying this is the answer,” he said. “But, if this is about the kids, the adults need to make the concessions.” Hanson’s concerned the sports programs would lose so many students that the fee wouldn’t cover transportation expenses, anyway.

Board member Trish Good suggested tabling the fee for at least a month for further discussion.

Board President Judy White suggested the men who spoke form a committee, do some research, and bring their findings to the July board meeting. “I’m pleased to see all the input, it deserves a shot to be looked at,” she said. White and other board members were not in favor of the parents picking up their children after sporting events, mainly for legal liability reasons.

Board member Rob Large said “shame on us,” meaning the board, for spending so much time on this subject instead of focusing on academics and the required curriculum. Athletics, while important, are extracurricular.

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