School fees to be target of expected state aid
Date: 8/31/2011Aug. 31, 2011
By Debbie Gardner
AGAWAM High school student athletic fees and parking permit costs came into the spotlight again last week when Mayor Richard Cohen announced he wanted to use a portion of an approximately $200,000 windfall in additional state aid to eliminate one and reduce the other back to its original amount.
At its Aug. 16 meeting, the School Committee voted to charge student athletes $100 per sport, with a per athlete cap of $200 and a family cap of $400 per year. It also agreed to raise the cost of parking permits for high school students from $40 to $160.
This new proposal would eliminate the athletic fees and reduce parking costs back to $40.
In a release announcing this proposed fee change, Cohen said the City Council and School Committee both need to approve the allocation of approximately $97,000 of the additional state aid to the School Department budget before it can take effect. The rest, Cohen said, would be added to the general fund to help stabilize the town’s future tax rate.
“I’ve always been opposed to [student] fees,” Cohen said, adding that the fees built into the current School Department budget were a “necessary evil” that allowed school administrators to retain positions and maintain small class sizes. “I’m confident that [the City Council and School Committee] will vote positively to eliminate these new fees.”
State Rep. Nicholas Boldyga, who, with State Sen. James Welch, responded to Cohen’s inquiries regarding the possibility of obtaining additional state aid for his town, said he felt the reduction of student fees was a good use of the additional aid disbursement, which was the result of a state surplus realized under the fiscal year 2011 (FY11) budget.
“Singling out one kind of club or organization is not fair to students, especially in these tough times,” Boldyga said. “I’m hoping that by bringing back [this aid] to Agawam, the School Committee will eliminate these fees.”
He added that in discussions about the aid with Cohen he sensed the mayor clearly wanted to use the money to “take as much burden off working families in the district as possible.”
School Committee Member Shelley Reed told Reminder Publications
she wanted to thank “our State Sen. [Welch] and our State Rep. [Boldyga] for their efforts in obtaining this money for Agawam and ... our mayor for requesting that it be allocated to the schools.”
A vocal opponent of the concept of fees at School Committee meetings, she added she was “extremely happy that we are receiving the additional funds and will strongly support the elimination of the fees.”
School Committee member Linda Galarneau added she was hopeful both the School Committee and the City Council would approve the mayor’s proposal.
Boldyga said this supplemental state aid would be a one-time payment, intended to restore money the Legislature cut last year when it expected a FY11 shortfall. Welch said the disbursement should be made to cities and towns in the Commonwealth, including Agawam, no later than Oct. 31. Debbie Gardner can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org