School district adopts higher student athlete fee for state travel

The Wrangell School District has increased its annual state travel fee for student athletes from $350 to $400 to help cover the cost of travel to state meets. It also clarified its policy in which those funds, if not used by the end of the school year, would be deposited into an account to pay for future state travel.

The fee increase was implemented for this school year in an effort to catch up with increasing costs, bolster the district’s overdrawn state travel account and shore up funds for future years.

District representatives said the policy in which the district retains unused fees is not new — but it was not enforced in past years.

Some coaches and parents are concerned that the higher fee might make sports cost-prohibitive for some families, produce inequities between students and create fundraising difficulties for teams depending on where their season falls in the academic year.

The state travel fee is in addition to the regular high school activity fees, which range from $25 to $150 per student for the school year.

The primary motivating factor behind the fee increase is the rising cost of state travel, explained Schools Superintendent Bill Burr. “The move up to $400 is just the cost of going to state is substantially higher,” he said. “We were trying to raise the fees by a small step that would be reasonable to try and offset some of those costs.”

Last month, auditors found that the district’s state travel account was overdrawn. “There is nothing in the fund,” said Burr. “Last year, when we had four teams that went to state, we didn’t do a good enough job, I think, of following our own policy that that money had to be paid before state travel.”

The boys cross country team, girls volleyball team, boys basketball and Wrangell wrestlers all competed at state championship meets last school year.

The district spent about $106,000 on student travel in the 2022-2023 school year, an increase from $96,000 the year before. The 2023-2024 school district budget includes $70,000 for student travel, intended to cover scheduled competition and the uncertainty of advancing to state meets.

Under the current system, the district would retain unused state travel fees at the end of the year — this way, years when not many teams make it to state would provide a financial cushion for years when several sports teams need to pay for state travel.

According to Kim Powell, the district’s administrative assistant, this approach is not new. When her children were enrolled in the district throughout the 2000s, they had to raise $350 each for state travel. “That money was put into an account for them and if they went to state, it would be used for state travel,” she said. “If they did not go to state, by the end of the year, that money would be absorbed into the state travel fund.”

“If my kid goes to state goes to state ... awesome,” she said. “And if they don’t, it’s supporting other kids.”

Due to high employee turnover, Powell isn’t certain when the district stopped using this approach. “Somehow, somebody loosened up the guidelines,” she said, and the school’s state travel fund started losing money at an unsustainable rate. “We’re proposing that we go back, basically, to the status quo of what it should have been but wasn’t (enforced),” she said.

Jamie Roberts, who has coached the swim team for seven years, is concerned that the last-minute change will make it difficult for early-season athletes to fundraise in time for state. “For early season sports, it’s putting us … in crisis-mode,” she said. “We do have a fundraiser going on right now, but it’s not going to get us $400 for each athlete.”

The team’s first meet of the year was Friday and Saturday, Sept. 1-2, in Sitka.

“It’s going to be cost-prohibitive for some students, especially this year,” she added.

Roberts would like to have access to a budget for her sport far in advance of the season and clear expectations for how much money she and her students need to raise. She would also support a system similar to Petersburg’s, where families pay for their own state travel.

“I just feel like that money, if it’s going for a specific athlete, maybe it should follow them for a while,” she said. “They’re just trying to boost the fund. You’re paying into something that you might not get benefits out of and parents aren’t happy about that.”

“It’s been seven years in, and I’ve never had consistency from one year to the next,” Roberts said of the district’s expectations. “We’ve lost coaches because of that. It’s hard. … I just want to coach.”

The district plans to revisit its policies after parents and coaches expressed concerns at a public meeting Thursday, Aug. 29.

“These are areas that the school board will probably have to work on a little bit,” Burr said. “Really, we don’t have a total outcome yet” because in the past, the school hasn’t always followed the guidelines of its own manuals or has operated in “gray areas” when the manuals didn’t specify district policy.

“I think there’s a bigger conversation that needs to be had around school activities and athletics and how we’re going to fund them,” said Roberts.

 

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