PUBLISHED: 7:05 PM on Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Superintendent announces plan to reduce cost of high school athletics, activities for students
Plan eliminates activity fee, creates scholarship fund
Juneau schools superintendent Peggy Cowan announced on Aug. 19 a one-year "first steps" plan to reduce the cost for high school students to participate in athletics and activities.

The plan eliminates the activity fee for high school students, establishes a scholarship fund, reduces the cost of activities to families and the community, and is intended to keep more Juneau teens engaged in school.

"For the last decade our generous community and a variety of non-profits have stepped up to the plate to expand activities for high school kids," Cowan said. "These hardworking community members are to be thanked for their tireless efforts to support youth. While some team fundraising will continue, the district and our local elected leaders understand that it's time to invest additional public funding to support these valuable programs. In exchange, we expect that all activities will be more affordable."

Cowan said the district will take the lead in this direction by no longer charging an activities fee to participate at the high school level. Students have paid a school fee of between $35 to $60 per activity, on top of various team or club costs.

To assist with those additional costs, the district also is establishing an income-based scholarship fund to provide up to $250 (or half of a team's fee, whichever is less) for eligible students per activity. Students who qualify for the federal free and reduced lunch program, who qualify as homeless under federal guidelines, or whose family qualifies for housing or public assistance, will receive automatic preference.

"I challenge every single high school student to get involved in an extra-curricular activity," Cowan said. "We know that kids in activities do better in school and are less likely to drop out. We are committed to ensuring that every student who wants to participate may do so, regardless of income.

"Economic times are tight for many families and I strongly urge parents to fill out the paperwork for free and reduced lunch during upcoming registration," she continued.

Registration and orientation began this week.

"I recognize that it's also a challenging time for the private sector and I encourage teams and booster clubs to ease their fundraising impact on businesses, as well as families," Cowan said.

She said that no matter which high school a student attends this year, they may participate in all Alaska School Activities Association (ASAA) teams and clubs, which will remain the Crimson Bears. An activities bus will run between the two main high schools at the end of the school day to accommodate practices in each location.

Next year, some ASAA-sanctioned Thunder Mountain Falcons teams will be formed.

Cowan credited the district-appointed Activities Advisory Committee with formulating a series of recommendations upon which she based her decisions. The committee - composed of coaches, parents, community members, and district staff - was charged with advising the superintendent on how to allocate $980,000 provided by the district and by the borough assembly. About half of that was new money.

"This group stayed focused on equity as it processed a great deal of technical information over many weeks this summer," said Cowan.

She noted that all formerly privately-funded teams (football, baseball, softball, hockey, soccer, and tennis) unanimously support the recommendations and have agreed to become school district activities and to abide by related guidelines.

Other specific recommendations adopted by the school district include:

• Funding for every ASAA team or activity to attend its state championship if it qualifies. Such funding has never before been available for any team or activity, whether it was district-funded or non-profit-funded; booster clubs have had to pick up the tab.)

• Funding for every ASAA team or activity to compete in its league in Southeast. If a team or activity does not have a competitive league in Southeast (such as tennis, hockey, or football) or has only a single competitive trip in the region, that team qualifies, instead, for a trip to the Railbelt road system.

• Reserved funding for any activity which does not have the budget for a critical equipment need or has an emergency situation (for example, needing to fly to or from an event due to a ferry layup).

• Funding for all coaches' stipends.

• Funding for all officiating.

• Rental of the Dimond Field House from 2:30 p.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, to replace the loss of Marie Drake gym use during that time. Drake gym will be used by the Harborview Elementary RALLY after-school program during the Harborview renovation this year.

Cowan said that next steps for the Activities Advisory Committee is to review the cost of participation at the middle school level and to provide suggestions on future funding to sustain the development of ASAA-sanctioned activities at all three high schools.