The Fairfax County School Board will approve next year's budget at Thursday's meeting, but they must first make a decision on whether three proposed amendments will be included.
Two of the three amendments address athletics fees, introduced in the fiscal 2011 budget.
Currently, athletes must pay a fee of $100 per sport to participate. The fee is waived for students who receive federal free or reduced lunch.
Both amendments propose that athletics fees are capped at two sports per athlete, but each amendment attempts to make up for lost revenue in a different way.
Member Sandra Evans (Mason) introduced an athletics fee amendment that suggests the loss in revenue be accounted for by reallocating the $100,000 set aside for the beginning balance of fiscal year 2013 to the fiscal year 2012 budget.
Members Elizabeth Bradsher (Springfield) and Ilryong Moon (At-large) put in a joint amendment that would instead make up the loss by reducing the $10,000 given to each of the county's 26 high schools schools for processing payments to $4,400. They argue the elimination of fees for Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses would allow schools to spend less on administering collection.
Evans said her amendment is based on the advice of school board staff, who told her the reallocation would be the easiest way to make up for lost revenue, but she appreciates Bradsher and Moon have come up with a new way to address the problem. She said she is concerned lessening funds that help schools administer and collect the fees would "put too great a burden on them," a concern Bradsher and Moon say they have dismissed after discussions with staff and the director of student activities. Evans plans to speak with principals for their feedback ahead of Thursday's vote.
"My main goal is to give some relief to our student athletes and their families," Evans wrote in an email. "... One way or another I hope our joint efforts will result in some relief for our athletes until we are able to eliminate these fees entirely."
Bradsher and Moon also have the objective to eventually eliminate the fees. For now, easing the burden on parents who have multiple athletes playing multiple sports will have to do, Bradsher said.
"In the long run, we want this eradicated. We just can't realistically do that in this budget environment," she said. "The budget has to get better, we have to get more funding really from the county. They're not even funding our enrollment increases."
Either amendment would save parents of one three-sport athlete about $100 a year; for families with three or more children it could save upwards of $600.
If the percentage of athletics fees payments remains at 64.8 percent for this year's spring sports, FCPS would expect to receive a total revenue of $1,762,747 from the 2010-11 school year. The fiscal 2011 budget projected $1.8 million in revenue.
Kristen West, athletic booster club vice president at J.E.B. Stuart High School, said the amendments are a step in the right direction.
"That's improvement. We'll take it, but I'm hoping next year it'll be zero," she said.
West spoke at the school board public hearing May 17, the lone voice on athletics fees that night. In her three-minute speech, she described not only the financial burden on families — a heavy one at Stuart, one of Fairfax County's lower-income schools — but also how the athletics fee has affected the mindset of parents of student-athletes.
"Educating our school community about what the fee is has not been easy and we have heard many times parents say, 'I've paid my fee I don't need to do anything else,'" West said in her speech to the board.
In a phone interview, West went on to describe the empty stands at games because parents are either too busy or unaware of the importance of showing up in support of the sports teams.
She also expressed sympathy for the administrators attempting to collect all the fees.
"The squeeze isn't worth the juice," West said. "The administration of this fee has been a nightmare. We have about 43 percent of unpaid fees out of all our athletes as of April 29. When administrators went through the list they found about 40 percent of those kids should've been on free or reduced lunch. Then the administration discovered a form that kids with free or reduced lunch needed to fill out to make sure their athletics fee was waived and nobody was aware of it. Like I said, a nightmare."
RANEY INTRODUCES PARKING FEE AMENDMENT
School board member Jim Raney (At-large) introduced a third amendment to the fiscal 2012 budget: an increase in parking fees for students from $200 to $250. The fee would maintain the sliding scale based on a student’s eligibility for free and reduced-price meals. Revenue would be allocated to the beginning balance for fiscal 2013.
At Thursday's worksession, Raney said increasing parking fees would help increase student safety, relieve traffic congestion in and around schools, and add to the 2013 carryover account, which would help pay for capping athletics fees.
"Part of my motivation for offering this amendment is that I would like to discourage students from driving to and from school," Raney said.
When the school board raised student fees from $150 to $200 in fiscal 2010, schools saw a 9 percent decline in students driving and paying the fee. FCPS staff is projecting another 10 percent decrease if the fee is raised to $200.
Stu Gibson (Hunter Mill) and Patricia Reed (Providence) said they would support Raney's amendment, while Tina Hone (At-large) said she'd consider it.
Jane Strauss (Dranesville) — along with Moon, Bradsher and Evans — said she would not support an increase in the parking fee because such a change would largely affect athletes because they need their cars to drive themselves home from practices because buses do not run late enough to bring athletes home.
"If we didn't have sports fees in place, I would probably feel somewhat differently about Mr. Raney's fee," Evans said. "But because we are not giving any relief to many of our athletes, I unfortunately cannot support raising parking fees at this time."