District savings via bond refinancing and reductions in health-care costs have allowed Lakota to absorb an anticipated $750,000 annual cost to its $152 million annual operating budget.
At the time of that announcement Lakota Chief Operating Officer Chris Passarge said “rather than waiting until next school year, we wanted to expedite this change for a more immediate benefit to our students and families this year. We hope this change, and any additional changes to follow, will encourage more students to explore more activities.”
But outside a few minor sports – the bowling team at Lakota West High School being one, which officials there say they will be able to fill a roster for the first time in years – the influx of more winter sports athletes hasn’t yet happened.
And Lakota officials are patiently confident the impact of lower fees will lead to more student participation.
Lauren Boettcher, spokeswoman for the 16,500-student Lakota Schools, said “the recent reduction in fees was done with the long-term intent of encouraging greater participation among more students in after-school activities. Just going into the first athletic season under the new fee structure, it’s really too early to draw any conclusions as to how the change impacted participation.”
“Long-term we hope the change will encourage more students, at a younger age, to try something new without the barrier of cost. It will probably take several years to see that impact at the high school level though,” said Boettcher.
Richard Bryant, athletic director at Lakota East High School, advised that “winter is a tough season to gauge growth, fall and spring are much better indicators.”
Unlike winter junior high and prep sports, spring provides more “no cut” sports and officials expect to see larger team rosters than in previous years.
“Basketball for example, we will have 10-15 players on the team due to it being a cut sport with capped participation. In general, most of our winter sports are organized this way,” said Bryant.
“While sports, such as wrestling and swimming, do not have a cap on participation – they are very specialized in nature. The true test will be in our mass participation or no cut sports, such as track, cross country, football etc. This is where I would expect to see significant growth,” he said.
Scott Kaufmann, athletic director at Lakota West High School, said the most important impact of the cheaper fees will be at the junior high grades, where young students will join teams and have their interests and skills groomed.
“Now that the fees are more manageable, we’re more likely to get a 7th grader who will try track or wrestling and so it becomes a trickle up and will help our numbers as the kids get older,” he said.
“We are not going to get a really great indication on how the new fees impact participation for a couple of years,” said Kaufman. “But we’re going to see some immediate number changes for example in track (spring).”
“My daughter didn’t run track last spring because frankly I didn’t want to pay $400 to do it. Now it’s $200. So I told her if she wants to run go ahead and run,” said Kaufman.
“I think that will carry over to cross country and football in the fall,” he said.
VIDEO: Lakota West High School Athletic Director Scott Kaufman talks about impact of lower student sport fees @journal-news.com