For years, Lakeville high school students have been hitting up neighbors and businesses to raise funds for after-school activities.

Students weren’t collecting money for new uniforms or a trip, but to pay for amenities previously provided by the district, like buses home from games and hiring coaches. On top of that, students were paying likely the highest activity fees in Minnesota, said Michael Baumann, Lakeville’s executive director of business services.

To reduce the burden on families, the school board is allotting $440,000 in additional funding to lower selected activity fees for the 2015-16 school year. The board also set a $3,000 cap per family for activity fees; there was none before.

“When I arrived here almost two years ago, this particular issue of activities fees was a concern … in the high school,” Baumann said. “Several board members expressed a concern about the challenges that the current system seemed to create for our community.”

The district is able to cut fees now because district finances have improved lately, thanks to the passage of a $5.6 million referendum in 2013, he said.

The extra money will reduce fees for the most expensive activities — hockey, basketball and volleyball — by 30 percent. Girls’ volleyball and basketball for both boys and girls, previously $440 per player, will cost $300 this year. Boys’ and girls’ hockey were both $600, but are now $420. Other activities remain the same — drama, for example, will be $135 and baseball $300.

Fees were raised about seven years ago when activities funding was cut amid other reductions at a time when the district was struggling financially and unable to pass a referendum.

Thousands of dollars

The school board approved the lower fees June 23 as part of the district budget. In all, $1.5 million will now go toward activities.

Before proposing the lower activity fees, Baumann surveyed 11 other districts and realized that in nearly every case, Lakeville’s fees were the highest.

The school board received many e-mails from parents before the decision was made, said Board Chairwoman Michelle Volk. Some parents had two or three kids playing several sports per year, which amounted to thousands of dollars, she said.

“It was a huge financial burden on their family to provide this opportunity for their children,” she said. “They were sacrificing a lot.”

Baumann said the reductions are a step in the right direction.

“We weren’t by any means able to give full relief, but I think we made an impact … with regards to that fundraising fatigue,” he said.

Other benefits

The additional school district funding for activities will restore other things that were cut in prior years, including some return buses from games. The budget also includes money for the Students Against Drunk Driving organization and a team of students to help with orientation.

Also, students will be able to get into any sports game except hockey and football this year for free. The district still needs the revenue those two sports provide, he said.

“I think it’s great because, you know what, school spirit is what it’s all about,” Volk said of the free admission.

Other south metro districts are also looking at their activity fees. Farmington recently raised all fees by $30 each. In Prior Lake-Savage, the board is considering raising all fees by $10 but hasn’t voted on the measure yet.