Cape drops sports charges

Thursday, September 20, 2007

One of Mark Ruark's happiest days as an athletic director wasn't on the field. It was when he discovered Cape Girardeau school officials would no longer have to collect a participation fee from students to play sports or participate in extracurricular activities at the high school.

"I can't tell you how ecstatic I am," he said.

The school board unanimously approved a motion Monday to discontinue the fee and to reimburse parents who had already paid this school year.

The fee was imposed in 2004 when the district faced a financial crisis and was forced to cut $1.2 million from the $35 million budget, still creating a million-dollar deficit.

Finances are rosier now, thanks to a stronger economy and increased funding from the state. Under a reworked state funding formula, approved by lawmakers in 2005, the Cape Gir­ardeau School District will see a progressive increase in state funding. The district welcomed an increase of $480,000 in funding between fiscal years 2006 and 2007, and by 2008 the district is expected to receive $6.1 million from the state. In addition, as property values increase, so does money coming into schools.

"Overall, the district is in better financial condition than a few years ago. As it improves, we are trying to reinstate what previously had been considered a cut," said Brenda McCowan, director of finances.

She said checks will be written next week to reimburse parents who had already paid for the fall season. Last year, about $25,500 was collected between the fall and spring seasons.

Parent Michele Holmes has a son who's a senior and participates in swimming. She said she never minded paying because she knew extracurricular activities would help her child succeed. But, she said with a laugh, "I won't say no to the money."

Ruark said the fees, $40 per activity with a $100 per student limit, added to the cost of already expensive sports where students are required to provide their own cleats and health insurance.

Slightly fewer students participated the past few years, but Ruark is unsure whether that is a result of the fee. He said no one approached him saying the fee was a factor in their decision to not try out, but there could have been students too embarrassed to do so.

"You shouldn't have to pay just for a right to be on the team," he said.

Money collected went into the district's general fund. The district's budget for 2007-2008 will not be released until the school board approves it in October.

Purse strings have been tightened, McCowan said. After the cuts, which included eliminating five teaching positions and putting a freeze on teacher's salaries, people became more aware of their spending, McCowan said. Although the district is reinstating portions of what was cut, such as increasing staff salaries by 3.1 percent last year, tighter measures are in place to ensure greater accountability. McCowan said the district is closely monitoring how staff keeps track of their budgets within programs and is "not allowing anyone to go over their budget without good reason."

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