The Carroll County school board is to vote today on a plan to charge high school athletes to play sports.
Although other public school systems have considered the idea, Carroll is poised to institute a $60 fee that would apparently make it the only Baltimore-area school system to require athletes to pay to play, officials said.
In Maryland, only Frederick and Washington counties have similar fees, according to a Carroll school official who researched the issue.
The school board voted last month to impose the fees as part of an effort to bring the system's spending plan in line with the county commissioners' budget requirements. The board's vote today is on a proposed policy that would put that decision into effect.
"We looked at areas that we could achieve some savings or some additional revenue," said Thomas G. Hiltz, a member of the board. "We cast a broad net. We had to. ... It's not as if someone just threw the idea out."
The nonrefundable charge is expected to generate at least $200,000 a year, said Bruce C. Cowan, the system's supervisor of physical education and athletics.
Cowan said the fees would cover a portion of expenses for transportation, officials and salaries, adding, "We probably spend about $500,000 in salary costs alone."
The proposal addresses the issue of students who might not be able to afford to pay a fee by waiving it for those on a reduced or free federal lunch plan, Cowan said.
Others could be considered on a case-by-case basis, he said.
The fee would apply only to sports, and not to clubs or other extracurricular activities.
In the past decade, school systems in several Maryland counties have contemplated cutting back their athletic programs to reduce costs, usually provoking parents' protests.
Two years ago, Harford County schools considered charging a $15 fee to all students participating in sports and other extracurricular activities, but the proposal died because of questions about its legality.
In Carroll, the idea of charging a fee to play sports has been discussed for about six months, Superintendent Charles I. Ecker said yesterday.
Cowan was asked to study the proposal, which was one of many that came in response to Ecker's request for suggestions about balancing the school budget.
One alternative cost-cutting measure that was rejected was the elimination of ninth-grade sports.
After the board voted to impose the fee as part of its $206.9 million operating budget, school administrators developed a policy.
Letters have gone home to high school students, advising parents of the $60-per-sport fee.
Several sports - including football, soccer, golf, cross-country, volleyball and field hockey - begin tryouts and practice in the middle of next month.
Other sports include softball, baseball, basketball, wrestling, lacrosse and cheerleading. As many as 4,300 students are expected to participate next year.
Hiltz, the school board member, said that the reaction he has seen - based on 10 to 20 comments - has been mixed, with a majority against the planned fee.
"It's a difficult decision," he said. "There are some strong feelings on both sides of the issue. It's an important activity - but it's also an extracurricular activity."
Ecker said there could be a lively discussion, but he expects the board to approve the fee today.
"If they do not do it, then we have to find $200,000 in the budget," he said.