The Dawson County school board is considering a plan that would have high school athletes and other students pay a travel fee for riding a bus to away games or activities.
The fee proposal, which Dawson County High School Principal Wayne Chelf presented during a recent meeting, would help cover fuel costs for various athletic and non-athletic student activities.
According to Chelf, the school spent about $18,500 for transportation last year, with the budget covering $14,000 of that. This year’s budget crunch has aggravated the situation.
“Last year we had to absorb about $4,500, and this year we simply will not be able to do it, much less absorb $14,000,” Chelf said. “We are still gathering data, looking into similar efforts through other school systems, and exploring options to come up with a solution to offset transportation costs.”
The Tigers compete in Region 8-AA, where transportation is key to linking the 10 member high schools that stretch north to Rabun County, on the South Carolina state line, and east to Oglethorpe County, near Athens. Bus rides of two hours or longer are not uncommon for away games.
Chelf’s proposal outlines a cost of $50 per student for the first activity, $30 for the second and no charge for subsequent activities.
“The fee would be mandatory for the student to participate, but we do have plans for leniency to allow students to pay throughout the season or at the end,” Chelf said.
“Booster clubs for the various groups have said they would help cover costs, but have also expressed concern for picking up costs of several other groups that bring in little to no revenue. We are doing our best right now to try and level the playing field, so that revenue and non-revenue sports and activities will have transportation.”
Grady Turner, athletic director for the high school, said the travel fee “seemed to be the best solution that made the least amount of impact among the students, but still covered the necessary costs.
“Without this fee in place, we will have to look at cutting programs and/or making programs shorter in order to cover costs, and we do not want to have to do that,” he said.
Turner said parents and program participants have been informed of the possibility of a fee for the coming year, with little reaction for or against.
“If approved, we do not see this as a problem that would lower participation among the students,” he said. “Should such a situation occur that a student could not pay the fee, we would work something out and not let paying the fee upfront hinder the participation of any student.”
Chelf noted that the proposal is aimed at covering transportation costs, not creating another fee for parents or forcing boosters and clubs to hold more fundraisers.
“We are anticipating similar participation numbers among our students and an activity schedule that closely parallels that of last year,” he said.
“If our anticipations are correct, which we believe they will be, and if fuel costs remain the same, the transportation fee would certainly cover the costs for the year.”
Chelf said the school district’s efforts could be aided in the future by longer region assignments, starting with the 2010-11 school year.
“When regions will be set for four years [instead of two], it will allow us to better plan for the future and have more exact numbers in terms of expenses,” he said.
“As far as this year is concerned, we are exploring every possible option to get travel expenses covered.”