The Charles County Board of Education voted Tuesday to stop charging students fees for participating in musical activities such as band and chorus.

Starting next fall, public school students in all grade levels will no longer have to pay the $10 annual activity fee. Superintendent James E. Richmond said the school board's unanimous decision could launch a broader move toward getting rid of all unnecessary student fees.

"The goal is to eliminate all fees," Richmond said. "This is the beginning of that rollback."

Currently, the 22,000-student system collects about $400,000 annually in student fees, officials said. Student athletes must pay $50 per sport per year, for a maximum of $100 annually. (The athletic fees bring in about $106,000 each year.) High schools also charge students for parking -- $25 a year -- and for materials in some classes, such as shop or science labs.

The music fees bring Charles schools about $20,000 each year, according to figures supplied to the school board. Half that money goes toward the cost of transportation, judges and other expenses associated with music festivals and outside competitions. Each school keeps the other half of the fees it collects, and the funds are spent at the music teachers' discretion.

School officials said the current student activity fees were introduced in the early 1990s, as a way of protecting programs at a time when school budgets were tight. Now that the system's financial outlook has improved -- thanks to more funding from state and local authorities -- administrators are hoping to abolish these fees, one by one. School officials said the music fees are a good place to start because their financial impact is fairly small; the lost revenue can be made up in the system's new operating budget, they said.

St. Mary's and Calvert students do not have to pay to participate in sports or other extracurricular activities, although they are charged for on-campus parking.

Charles school board members said eliminating the music fees is a good first step toward improving students' educational opportunities. Board member Margaret Young pointed out that music lessons are an integral part of a proper education. "I don't think children should be charged to get the basics of education," she said.

"I'm supportive of whatever we can do to ensure that our students are not being charged excessively to participate in student activities," added board member Sharon W. Caniglia.