The cost of participating in high school sports and other extra-curricular activities in the Juneau School District will be cheaper this school year.
The district announced earlier this week that it will use public funds to eliminate some fees, cover the cost of officials and the stipends of coaches and advisers, and pay for some travel costs.
In previous years, much of those costs were borne by students and their parents, as well as community members who contributed to numerous fundraisers. Some sports were almost entirely privately funded.
The district also will offer scholarships up to $250 to lower-income students this year.
Superintendent Peggy Cowan said the move was intended to increase the number of students who participate in sports or activities.
"We know that kids in activities do better in school and are less likely to drop out," Cowan said in a statement. "We are committed to ensuring that every student who wants to participate may do so, regardless of income."
Boosting participation numbers has been a long-term goal of the district. In past years, less than half of the district's high school students participated in sports or activities with only about one in four Alaska Natives participating.
Part of the problem, school officials and parents have said, was the high cost of some activities, with students in various activities sometimes having to raise several hundred dollars to participate.
Earlier this year the Juneau School Board and city Assembly increased their respective budgets for high school sports and activities, based in part on the recommendations of a task forced convened by the mayor and school board president.
The district has nearly $1 million in public money to spend on activities this school year, up from about $380,000 last year. The task force had recommended the city and School Board approve $1.65 million this year for activities' funding.
Activities Director Rhonda Hickok said she didn't have exact numbers on how much each particular sport or activity's cost would be affected by the district's new money. She said it will be up to each sport's organizers to determine how the district's money is spread around.
"It will still cost money to participate," Hickok said. But "it will be less. In some sports it will be significantly less."
She added that the district will keep close tabs on participation numbers and overall to see "where we are impacting kids the most."
Cowan said the district has a "clear expectation that ... the fees to the individual student will be reduced and the fundraising in the community will be reduced."
JDHS football coach Bill Chalmers said the public money lowered the amount students need to pay or fundraise from about $1,800 to about $1,400.
Chalmers said the larger scholarship amounts, plus scholarships available from the city, have made it possible for some students to play who would have had difficulty otherwise.
"That was a big boost for us," he said.
JDHS hockey coach David McKenna said the new money will help the hockey team "immensely" and cut overall costs by two-thirds.
"It just does wonders to make hockey more affordable," McKenna said.
In addition to paying for some of the in-state travel costs teams and groups incur, the district will pay for the trips of any team or group that makes it to a state championship competition.