Courtney Kerrigan
Ohio.com correspondent


BARBERTON: Families can put away their checkbooks come sports season as school board members decided Wednesday night to eliminate pay-to-participate fees for the 2013-2014 school year.



The decision follows much discussion about how the fees have affected the district financially and operationally, hitting families the most in their wallets. With 71 percent of the district on free-and-reduced lunches, the board sees that most of the community is already under financial stress.



“As we’ve gotten the levy money, I think it’s the right thing for us to do,” board member Megann Eberhart said. “If we have this opportunity to relieve families we should take it, and it’s a way for us to give back to them as well.”



Instead, board members are relying on more membership in the athletic and band boosters and hope to see an academic booster implemented as well.



“I want to see better booster clubs so we can get back to the point where they can subsidize some costs that the district is subsidizing,” board president Joe Stefan said.



The price of booster club membership fees are a fraction of what pay-to-participate fees are, he added, and encourages community members to get involved.



The administration and the board plan to revisit the subject annually to determine if fees need to be reinstated.



“For some families, the money’s nothing but for others it’s a real stress,” board member Dennis Liddle said. “We’ve done a good job at managing expenses and a lot of districts haven’t like we have, so I think it would be very appreciated to be able to do this.”



The school board also approved increasing cafeteria prices by 5 cents for the 2013-2014 school year.



Ryan Pendleton, district treasurer/chief financial officer said the increase doesn’t have anything to do with inflation. It is a result of a requirement the state puts on schools for nutrition, such as implementing whole grains, which costs more.



Members Stefan and Eberhart expressed concern for those students who will have to “bear the burden” of paying out of pocket.



“I am very concerned for families who are close but can’t qualify for free-and-reduced lunches because this is one of the only ways they can get food,” Eberhart said.



The last price increase was for the 2011-2012 school year.