Sunday, August 1, 2004

Fairfield sports on the line

Extracurriculars at risk if Tuesday levy fails

By Dan Klepal
Enquirer staff writer

FAIRFIELD - Supporters of a 6.9-mill school levy rallied for a final push Saturday, with more than 300 people canvassing neighborhoods and passing out materials urging people in the city and the township to vote in favor of the tax Tuesday.

The levy, which will cost the owner of a $100,000 home an additional $211 a year if passed, is needed to keep students from being required to pay for extracurricular activities.

If the levy fails, high school students will have to pay $630 to play a sport, $350 to participate in marching band, and $260 for each activity or club they want to be in. Middle-school athletes would have to pay $430 per sport.

The so-called "pay to play" initiative is a national trend that has caught on in a few school districts around Greater Cincinnati. Community groups in the Edgewood, Fairfield and Franklin schools are instituting pay-to-participate programs this fall after school boards previously cut the programs to save money.

Dan Murray, co-chairman of Citizens for Fairfield Schools, said each of the school district's 56 voting precincts was visited Saturday. Many in his group handed out the literature or hung the materials in a bag on front doors. Murray said the issue is personal for him - he has three children in the district with his oldest, Halle, a senior at Fairfield High.

"A community that invests in its schools is the kind of community people want to move into, and that's the kind of community we want Fairfield to be," Murray said. "I don't want my daughter to look back on her senior year with no homecoming dance, no football team and no marching band."

If the levy fails, the organization that put together the pay-to-play program - called Promoting Activities for a Complete Education (PACE) - must come up with $306,000 Wednesday for fall sports and marching band. If the levy passes, PACE would refund the some $261,000 it has raised so far. Fairfield Board of Education members allowed the group to begin raising funds after a similar levy was rejected by voters in March.

Meanwhile, Citizens for Accountability and Results in Education (CARE) - the group opposing the levy - says it has no beef with extracurricular activities. It's the teacher salaries that are causing the budget crunch, according to CARE founder Arnold Engel.

"Teachers and administrators suck out every dollar from the district, and they don't care if the kids have sports programs," said Engel, adding that annual pay increases for teachers are combined with "step" increases, which give teachers additional pay raises based on their years of service and education levels.

"We've given our teachers the best benefits and retirement plans in the whole country. There's no business in America that could afford a workforce like we have in our schools. They're taxing people right out of town."


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