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Calvert Likely to Eliminate High School Activity Fees

By Amit R. Paley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 20, 2005; Page SM01

The Calvert Board of Education is expected to vote next month to eliminate the fees charged to high school students who participate in extracurricular activities, school officials said.

The activity fees were imposed for the first time this year to create additional revenue in a tight budget year. Superintendent J. Kenneth Horsmon proposed retaining the fees in the $152.3 million budget he proposed last month for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

But at a school board meeting this month, officials said they would not need the revenue from the fees because they had found extra money elsewhere in the budget.

William J. Phalen Sr., president of the school board, said Horsmon and a majority of the board support removing the fees from next year's budget, which is scheduled for a vote at a board meeting March 10.

"I think it's important that we not discourage anyone from participating in extracurricular programs by charging fees," Phalen said. "The extracurricular program is an important part of the whole education experience."

In Calvert high schools, students now pay a $75 annual fee to participate in school-sponsored athletics. There is also a $10 fee for taking part in certain other extracurricular activities, such as band, drama club and the mock trial team.

The board is likely to continue charging fees to middle school students who participate in athletics, Phalen said. Middle school students pay $35 to participate in sports clinics and $30 to play on a team.

"Our athletic program for middle school students is unique in the state of Maryland," said Phalen, adding that Montgomery is the only nearby county that offers athletic programs in middle school. He said board members felt there should be a charge because the costly program is unavailable in most other jurisdictions.

Most other Maryland counties that have activity fees -- including Montgomery, Frederick, Washington and Carroll -- charge less than Calvert. Charles County, which used to charge $50, eliminated its fees in 2000, replacing the funds with revenue from a 10-year contract that gave Coca-Cola exclusive vending rights in county schools.

Gordon L. Smith, the Calvert school system's director of finance, said the current budget assumed that the activity fees for middle and high school students would generate $125,000. He now anticipates that the fees this year will generate between $150,000 and $175,000.

School officials initially thought they would again need $125,000 from the activity fees to balance the fiscal 2006 budget. But this month, Smith discovered that he had budgeted $40,000 for school repairs when the actual need was only for $4,000.

"That was my goof-up," he said.

Smith also learned in the past few weeks that property insurance costs will be about $30,000 lower than he expected. Those two budget adjustments were large enough to offset the $65,000 in revenue that would have come from high school activity fees.

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