Schools address fee waivers, high cost of activities, building use
by Bill Boyle
San Juan Record Editor
The high cost for students to participate in school activities – and fee waivers for students from low income families – is the focus of a major initiative by the San Juan School District.
The school board is moving closer to approving “spend plans” for all extracurricular activities at the junior high and high schools.
The plans were discussed at the February 5 meeting of the school board.
Approval of the spend plans is set to be listed as an action item at the March 4 board meeting in Navajo Mountain.
The initiative was implemented in school districts across the state after a legislative audit determined that the fee waiver program is not operating as intended.
Superintendent Ron Nielson said the spirit of the fee waiver law is that “no student should feel excluded because of a lack of money.”
The San Juan School District generally has a large number of students who qualify for the fee waivers. The district goal was to determine just how much it really costs to participate in each program.
Over recent months, the district has determined these costs. The board will approve a spend plan for each activity, which lists the maximum out-of-pocket expense that could be required for students to participate.
The total current cost of the spend plans for each program is listed on page A2. Details on each plan can be found at the school district website at sjsd.org.
The current spend plans range from $15 for members of the Class of 2025 at Whitehorse High School to $2,545 to be a cheerleader at San Juan High School.
The spend plans include costs for a variety of expenses, including fees, uniforms, travel, meals, and camps. Costs are also included if the activity qualifies for state or national competition.
It is anticipated that a maximum out-of-pocket cost per student will also be included. Nielson suggested the board set the maximum at $5,000 per person per year, but added that it may change if the spend plans include what he called “out-of-state super trips.”
This may include student trips to Washington, DC and other areas, in addition to participation in national competitions such as FBLA, Unity Clubs, or History Fair.
“It is difficult to approve some and not approve others,” said Nielson, who added that a key question is, “Does the educational value merit the cost?”
“If kids have the opportunity and it is free, then they want to go,” said District Business Administrator Kyle Hosler.
School board member Merri Shumway said she is “not willing to allow taxpayers to foot the bill for these expensive trips” and added “it will bankrupt the district if there is an accident.”
Nielson suggested that if the trips are not approved as school-sponsored trips, community members will move to fill the void.
Overall, Nielson said that “required expenses” in some of the spend plans that may need to be adjusted, including gifts for graduating seniors; professional photographs for dance, cheer, and drill teams; required luggage; the timeframe between buying new uniforms; and requiring specific shoes or cleats.
Shumway pointed out that taxpayers are already covering lots of costs aside from the spend plans, including for facilities, officials, transportation, and coaches.
In other matters at the February 5 board meeting, a Building Use Policy approved at the January meeting of the school board was the focus of additional discussion.
The policy implemented a number of changes to the cost, insurance requirements, liability responsibilities, and more for the large number of community groups who use school facilities.
Supporters of community programs that serve as “youth-feeder systems” expressed concern about the cost to use the schools, suggesting the programs could not absorb the cost of the use fees, which could rise to $1,000 a day for large events.
Superintendent Nielson discussed a variety of programs designed as youth-feeder system programs, including volleyball, cross country, basketball, and wrestling.
Nielson said that charging a facility fee for the programs may create a barrier to the programs.
Nielson outlined several requirements in order for groups to avoid the fee, including that the programs would need to be for non-profit events, to be in the same sport as high school programs, and to follow the school guidelines and directions.
In addition, school wellness programs will be able to use school facilities.
The feeder programs will still be required to pay a $300 cleaning deposit, but the district will waive the event fees.
The policy may still be adjusted in coming meetings. “We have been premature on all of this,” said Shumway.
Matt Keyes, the district Human Resources Director, agreed, adding, “The old system was working, and it was working effectively. We just needed to be more consistent. The changes have brought up quite a bit of concerns and complexities.”
In other items at the board meeting, San Juan Sweet Job awards were presented to Billie Sue Nielson, Laura Palmer, and Paul Murdock.
The board requested the district seek more bids for the new soccer field for San Juan High School, which will be located behind Albert R. Lyman Middle School.
A single bid had been secured from a company in Aztec, NM for approximately $100,000 to prepare, grade, repair, install an irrigation system, and place sod on the field.