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Any future budget cuts could lead to increase in costs for Willmar sports

WILLMAR -- Participation in sports and other activities has been strong in Willmar's schools, even with a higher fee structure in place this year.

If voters allow an operating levy to expire at the end of the year, those fees could go even higher.

The district's attempt to renew and increase the operating levy was turned back by the voters in 2010. The levy will expire at the end of 2011, and the district will again ask the voters to renew it in November.

If the levy expires, it could leave a $3 million hole in the district's revenue.

Activities Director Jamie Thompson told the Willmar School Board on Monday that all of the sports have such good participation that it would be difficult to cut any one sport. The board met in a workshop meeting and did not take official action on any of the issues discussed.

"Activities promote growth as a student," Thompson said. "Being part of a team is a really valuable thing."

If major budget cuts are needed, Thompson said, he may recommend keeping the activities in place and using fees to support them.

"I think we would have to go with a model that would benefit all kids," he said.

Current fees at Willmar Senior High are $300 for the first sport, $200 for the second and $100 for the third, with a family cap of $700. Thompson said higher per-sport fees and a higher family cap are possibilities, depending on the district's financial condition.

In budget cuts a year ago, the board cut some middle school sports and asked Willmar Community Education and Recreation to take them over.

Thompson and Rob Baumgarn, who serves as director for middle school athletics, said participation has remained strong, although parents are asking that the tennis program be restored.

Thompson said some middle school sports members have practiced with varsity teams. The younger students work with a separate coach and compete in different divisions, he said, and the head coaches like the set-up. "It's allowed them to get to know the kids in their program better."

The board also received the annual report from the Willmar Community Education and Recreation Department and discussed the spring 2012 trips to Spain and China for language students.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

(320) 214-4340