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Student fees to affect athletes, drivers

Date: 8/23/2011

Aug. 24, 2011

By Debbie Gardner

Assistant Editor

AGAWAM — Athletes at Agawam High School will pay for the privilege of joining a team. So will students who wish to bring a car to school.

Those who join any of the school’s other clubs or activities, however, will be able to participate free of charge — at least for now.

That was the final decision reached by the School Committee at its Aug. 16 meeting.

“We have been fighting to stave off fees for as long as possible,” School Committee member Linda Galarneau said following the committee’s final decision. “It’s a sign of the times. Surrounding communities have [student] fees. East Longmeadow and Ludlow have transportation fees.”

As outlined in the committee’s final draft of student fees, athletes will pay $100 per sport, with a cap of $200 per athlete and/or $400 per family per year. Students who receive free or reduced price lunches would be assessed reduced fees. The payment would be due before the first contest of a given sport’s season. No refunds would be issued for voluntary withdrawal from a sport, injury or ineligibility to play because of academic standing.

Students wishing to bring a car to school for the 2011-12 term will pay $160 for the privilege of parking in the high school lot. This represents an increase of $120 over last year’s $40 parking fee.

The final vote was 6-0 in favor of this fee structure. School Committee member Diane Juzba was absent for the decision.

The School Committee began its meeting intending to assess athletes $100 per sport, with a $200 per athlete cap, and to charge students participating in other extracurricular activities a $25 fee per club or organization membership. Students partici-pating in band, yearbook, Mirror and honor societies — all activities that also include a grade — were to be exempted from fees. The new parking fee for the 2011-12 academic year was originally set at $100.

Citizen participation at the beginning of the meeting, however, prompted the School Committee to begin exploring alternatives to the original fee structure.

Jack Kanasek, former director of the Agawam Parks & Recreation Department, presented the School Committee with a detailed outline of how he felt an increase in student parking fees could reduce the need for athletic and activity fees.

Saying recent media coverage had indicated the committee needed to collect $9,700 in student fees to balance the School Department’s 2011-12 budget, Kanasek suggested the committee consider charging students $1 per day to park a car at school. With his estimate of 250 available spaces in the high school’s front parking lot, he said that approach “would resolve some of the problem, and the rest [of the money] could be made up somewhere else in the budget.”

When asked how she arrived at the figure for the student parking fee, Agawam Public Schools Director of Finance/Human Resources Patricia Cavanaugh said she had “looked at surrounding communities, which were [charging] between $60 and $250.”

Noting that the school buses arriving at the high school are “pretty empty,” and that bringing a car to school was still a privilege, School committee member Roberta Doering asked, “is that an area where we can look at raising fees?”

Mayor Richard Cohen, chair of the School Committee, suggested that an increase in the parking fee might be a way to offset activity fees.

Cavanaugh calculated that parking would need to increase by $60 per student to compensate for the estimated $19,125 that would have been collected in activity fees.”

The committee passed the motion made by School Committee members Kathleen Mouneimneh and Doering to increase student parking fees from $100 to $160 and to eliminate the $25 activity fee by a vote of 6-0.

Resident Eric Lunden, who volunteers at the high school, told Reminder Publications he understood the School Committee did what it needed to do to balance the budget, but that he felt the final fee structure was unfair to athletes, many of whom also choose to drive to school because of their sports equipment.

Mayoral candidate and former School Committee member Rosemary Sandlin, who also attended the meeting, agreed that the fee structure was unfair to student athletes.

“The way [the fee structure] reads, it’s a $400 maximum [per family] and $160 to park,” Sandlin said. “The fourth quarter tax payment is $400 to $600, at [a potential] $560, this is like a fifth tax payment.”

Cohen said the need to assess student fees to balance the school budget “was not anything anyone wanted to do” given the economic conditions facing families in Agawam.”

He added, “My hope is that next year there will be no fees.”

Debbie Gardner can be reached by e-mail at


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