Student participation in extra-curricular activities will soon carry a new price tag in the form of pay-to-play and student activity fees instituted Monday by the Harford County Board of Education. The $50 pay-to-play fee for each sport and $25 fee per student activity will be charged to students beginning in the 2013-14 school year.
The Board set the fees affecting elementary, middle and high school students in order to raise revenue and to save teaching positions that would have otherwise been cut from the $424.7 million operating budget approved last night for the fiscal year 2014.
Board members also talked about the fees as a public wake-up call regarding the school system’s dire financial straits.
“This is just the beginning,” Board Member Cassandra Beverley said of the school system’s quest for new revenue. “We are going to look under every rock we can,” she said, adding that the public needed to know, “we may be charging for other things.” Predicting that the fees, which were not publicly discussed prior to the Monday meeting, would be a “shock” to parents, Beverley said they were a result of “desperate times.”
Earlier in the evening, the Board eliminated salary increases negotiated for all 5,400 employees next year and cut 91 teaching positions as it scaled back spending plans by approximately $20 million to match available funding. Implementation of the fees helped reduce the teacher position cuts to about 79, according to a press release issued Tuesday afternoon by HCPS.
Board Member Tom Fitzpatrick supported the fee implementation on practical, as well as philosophical, grounds: “It enrolls parents and students to save some jobs,” he said, adding with regard to funding, “We will never change the dynamic without public engagement.”
Approval of the new fees came at a board meeting packed with teachers upset over a lack of scheduled salary increases in three of the last four years.
On the plus side for teachers, the Board passed a budget amendment exempting teachers’ children from the new fees, along with those of active military personnel. Students enrolled in the government program for Free and Reduced-Price Meals (FaRMS) will also be exempt.
Board Member Bob Frisch garnered applause from teachers in attendance when he compared the fees to be paid by parents with the burden of higher class sizes for teachers and students that the fees would help mitigate.
Arguing that the school system was not obligated to provide extra-curricular activities, Frisch said that the fees were low compared to those set by the county department of parks and recreation, and the pay-to-play fees for sports would affect a relatively small number of the 38,000 students in the system.
Combined, both sets of fees will raise roughly half a million dollars next year, according to estimates made at the meeting by Jim Jewell, HCPS assistant superintendent of business services, who said that the fees would recover some of the $3.6 million budgeted by the school system for extra-curricular activities.
Of the 24 school systems in the state, Jewell also said that seven charge the fees.
The only ‘no’ votes for the new fees came from Board Member Alysson Krchnavy and Student Representative Panashe Mutombo.
“They’re not right for the community,” Krchnavy said of the fees.
Mutombo worried about the cost for families with multiple children involved in many activities, saying that some struggle now to buy necessary sporting equipment. Turning a familiar parental admonishment around on his elders, Mutombo said that just because other school systems were doing it, didn’t mean that HCPS should initiate the fees. Instead, Mutombo asked his fellow board members to consider, “Is it the right thing to do?”
Below is the list of extra -curricular activities that will henceforth carry the student participation fees of $50 per sport and $25 per activity, along with additional information about the fees provided earlier today by Teri Kranefeld, HCPS manager of communications:
“Only activities or sports where an adult is paid a stipend to coordinate the activity will be charged a fee – which are the items reflected in [the] list. There are activities where the coordinator is a volunteer – there would be no fee for that activity. However, the details of this initiative are currently being developed. More information will be forthcoming as it becomes available.”