Sports teams may take hit at Switzerland

Families are being asked to help shoulder the costs to keep Switzerland of Ohio Local Schools’ sports teams on the field for at least one more year.

But if a levy cannot be passed by this time next year, there could be no sports in 2014-15, and that would only be the start of the cuts, district officials say.

A five-year, 6.44-mill emergency levy failed by about 200 votes in May, leading the district to enact a series of reductions that included the elimination of about 40 jobs and scrap the hiring of school resource officers to increase safety. The plans also called for the cancellation of sports that were not self-supporting, but the new pay-to-play policy is expected to bring all sports close to that level, for the time being.

“That is our best compromise at this point,” board of education member Jannelle Comstock said.

The new policy charges $200 per athlete, per sport for high school and $100 per athlete, per sport for junior high, up from $10 previously. In addition, the district will not provide any athletic transportation, and junior high coaches will not be paid.

That setup “gets the athletic program as close to self-sustaining as it has ever been,” Treasurer Lance Erlwein said in an email this week.

But even that will only last so long.

“If a levy isn’t passed prior to June 2014, then sports are eliminated for (the) 2014-15 school year,” Erlwein said.

The district recently reached a deal with its employees to help mitigate an $850,000 jump in health insurance rates, Erlwein said. That, along with the staffing cuts, will keep Switzerland of Ohio in the black until January 2015, he said.

But new money is needed to keep the district in the black as it wrestles with cuts to state and federal funding, declining enrollment and the loss of a permanent improvement levy in place since 1996.

“If the voters do not approve a levy … the board will have no choice but to start planning for another round of cuts to be announced next summer, which may likely involve building closures,” Erlwein said. “We simply cannot run the district in its current configuration at the 20-mill floor.”

At its meeting on Thursday, scheduled for 6 p.m. at the central office in Woodsfield, the board is expected to vote on placing a new levy on the ballot in November. If that one is rejected, there would be two chances after that – a special election and the 2014 primary – to try again.

“I’m hoping it doesn’t take that,” Comstock said. “I’m going to have faith in our community and our school district and the people who live here and hope that they vote for the children.”

Comstock said the votes to make the academic cuts and institute the pay-to-participate fee were the hardest decisions she’s ever made as a board member.

“I don’t think I’ve cried this much in years,” she said.

Comstock said the $200 and $100 figures represent the board’s attempt to be as fair as possible.

“I didn’t want the prices to be too high to where some kids couldn’t participate because I do believe athletics provide a lot for our kids,” she said. However, “I have a really hard time paying anything for athletics and extracurriculars – even though I know how important they are – when … we have to make the cuts to the academic side.”

Woodsfield resident Rosalea Swallow, 48, said she’s not pleased about the fees but at least her family can afford them.

“If my children want to play, we will pay it,” she said. “It’s sad that some kids that can’t afford to pay to play won’t get to, because that’s all they have.”

There is no cap on how much a family would have to pay if they have multiple children playing sports or one child playing multiple sports. Erlwein said he anticipates booster organizations “will be doubling their fundraising efforts to help support families who have difficulty with the fees.”