$99 fee spells end of spelling bee

The regional spelling bee was called off this week. The Kitsap Sun, the bee’s primary sponsor, canceled the annual competition after three Kitsap school districts bowed out.

Read Chris Henry’s story below.

Less Interest in Spelling Bee Ends Sponsorship By the Sun
By Chris Henry

The Kitsap Sun has announced it will no longer sponsor the annual Scripps National Spelling Bee program in Kitsap and Mason counties.

In 2007, the nonprofit program, administered by the E.W. Scripps Co., began charging a $99 per school fee, which resulted in three local districts — South Kitsap, Bremerton and Central Kitsap — to opt out of the bee. Students from those districts represented about 75 percent of the participants in the Kitsap Regional Spelling Bee, the winner of which progressed to the national bee in Washington, D.C., said Deb Smith, Kitsap Sun marketing director.

“Since local participation is likely to remain low, we can no longer justify the considerable allocation of time and expense to sponsor the spelling bee,” she wrote in a Sept. 4 letter to spelling bee coordinators in each district.

The Kitsap Sun last year paid more than $5,000 in sponsorship fees, prizes in the form of savings bonds for winners and travel expenses for the winner. But money wasn’t the driving issue for the company’s decision, Smith said.

“In this time in our industry, of course we’re looking at everything we do and making sure we use resources wisely,” she said. “But the decision about the spelling bee was made because of the reduced participation in our readership area.”

Smith earlier in the summer checked with Scripps to see if there was any thought of repealing the fee. There wasn’t.

Financial pressure was cited by Scripps as the reason schools were asked to help offset the cost of the bee. Historically, 90 to 95 percent of funding for the bee has come from media sponsors, but over the past decade — as newspapers struggled to stay financially viable — sponsorship of the program has declined, making up just 35 percent of funding in 2006.

School districts cited their own financial pressures as contributing to the decision to opt out of the bee.

In South Kitsap, the decision not to take part in the bee was made by the school board based on feedback from school staff, board President Patty Henderson said in December after the fee was announced. She said teachers for some time have questioned whether the annual spelling bee is a good use of staff time.

“The $100 was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Henderson said. “It takes time away from instructional time, and in this high stakes environment that our schools are in, it was determined that the time could be better spent in other academic endeavors.”

In all three districts, either administrators or the school board determined that non-participation would be district-wide, rather than leaving the decision up to each school.

Smith was surprised to hear from Scripps officials that sponsorships are not down significantly in other regions participating in the bee.

While most sponsoring companies are media-related, any company could step forward to sponsor the bee. The deadline for sponsor sign-ups, however, was in early July.