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Staff Writer

TOWNSEND — Until now, North Middlesex Regional School District had prided itself with not having any user fees for extracurricular activities.

However, a tight budget year, and signs of more to come, have forced fees to finally be placed on sports for next school year.

“I reluctantly make the recommendation to impose fees,” Superintendent Dr. Maureen Marshall told the School Committee.

Middle School students will now have to pay $50 per sport. High School students will be charged $75 for sports and marching band, including majorettes.

Marshall explained that the fees would save the school $100,000.

“If we don’t impose fees, we’ll need to find two more positions to eliminate,” Marshall warned.

The originally certified level-service school budget for fiscal year 2008 was cut by $1 million when towns said they couldn’t afford to fund it. The $1 million cut removed 20 positions from the district through layoffs and attrition.

Marshall said that she wouldn’t take it personally if the school committee disagreed with her recommendation, but the committee didn’t question the need for fees.

“I’m not in favor of paying fees, but we cannot afford to cut two more positions,” said Chairman Arnold Silva.

The committee has discussed the possibility of fees since April, which meant their conversation centered on the wording of how the fees would be implemented.

The draft presented by Marshall said “fees could be waived for any student eligible to participate in the ‘free and reduced’ lunch program.”

Committee member Theresa Morse made a motion to allow the fees to be waived for students who could demonstrate financial hardship in another way. Marshall said she had no problem with the changed language, if the committee approved of it.

Member Frederick Wheeler wanted more clarification on how the financial hardship would be demonstrated and who would make the final decision.

“I don’t know if there is a protocol for it,” said member Dennis Moore.

It was eventually agreed that the school principal would have the final say on what constituted a financial hardship, based on requests or recommendations from families and staff.

The motion to include the changed language was approved unanimously.

Moore then questioned the fact that the original language said the fees were for sports or activities. Currently, the School Committee is trying to limit user fees to sports only.

“An ‘activity’ could be a club,” said Moore.

Marshall said the word “activity” was used to address possible future issues, but that it could always be readdressed at a future meeting if needed. For simplicity, the word “activity” was removed from the user fee language.

The school committee voted unanimously to approve the new user fees.

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