The following presentation by the NAACP Youth Council was delivered to the Harford County Board of Education on Monday, September 9th. A copy was provided to The Dagger for publication:
My name is Eric Watson, I am a student at John Carroll High School and I am the Vice President of the Harford County NAACP Youth Council under the leadership of Mr. Corneilius Scott, Advisor of the Harford County NAACP Youth Council.
Due to the budget shortfall, the Board implemented several cost-saving and revenue-generating measures, which resulted in several policy changes that have adversely impacted students and their families. Hence, on behalf of the NAACP Youth Council, I would like to present the Board with two issues that have a major impact on our community.
I. Pay to Play/Participate
• Athletic and activity fees were instituted to pay for extracurricular programs.
• The Board of Education set the fees at $25 per activity to participate in each elementary, middle or high school extracurricular activity for which the sponsor is paid a stipend and $50 per season to participate in any Junior Varsity (JV) or Varsity sport.
• The introduction of these fees can be cost-prohibitive and create financial hardship for families.
o Certain groups of students are exempt from these new fees (namely those approved for Free and Reduced Meals (FARMS), those with parents who are certificated personnel covered under the HCEA Negotiated Agreement, such as teachers, guidance counselors, etc., and those with parents who are on active military duty activity).
o Why were these groups selected for exemptions? While one can understand exempting low-income students from the fees and while we fully support the certificated personnel, the non-certificated personnel are much lower paid and likely the least able to afford the new fees.
o In addition, those who would stand to benefit from participating in athletics and extracurricular activities the most likely will have to scale back their participation due to the cost-prohibitive fees and financial hardship.
• Furthermore, the fees can only be paid online via debit or credit card.
o This practice is discriminatory since many do not have online/internet access due to the digital divide, while others may not have debit or credit cards by choice or due to financial circumstances.
o In contrast, the school lunch program, while encouraging parents to submit payment via the online portal, MySchoolBucks.com, still accepts payments at the school via cash and check.
Recommendation: It is the NAACP Youth Council’s recommendation to the Board to postpone the implementation of the Pay to Play/Participate policy for one year to adequately prepare families. Additionally, expand the options of payments to include money orders, cash, check or even Paypal.
II. Changes to the Transportation Policy
• Four new elementary schools were added to the fourth tier bus schedule by starting and ending 30 minutes later (9:30 a.m.-4:00 p.m.),
o This change can adversely affect parents by requiring an additional outlay for before school day care services that were previously unnecessary and also may wreak havoc on parents’ work schedules.
• Elimination of previously approved exemptions to the HCPS transportation policy,
o This has raised huge safety issues since students are now being forced to walk longer distances in areas without sidewalks, cross major thoroughfares, as well as walk in the dark.
• Depot bus stops established for magnet school students, and
o This new requirement places the burden on the parents to transport their magnet students to a depot when previously students were transported directly from their neighborhoods. As a result of this increased burden, some magnet students may forego this educational opportunity.
• Consolidated bus stops established for both middle and high school bus routes.
o Again, this is a safety issue since students are walking longer distances in the dark along unsafe routes. A single accident or injury would negate the Board’s savings of $890,000.
Recommendation: It is the NAACP Youth Council’s recommendation to closely monitor the outcome of the changes to the Transportation Policy, remediate the issues identified immediately, and/or revert to the previous schedules and bus routes in 2014-2015.
EdgeWoodstock Festival 2013
The NAACP Youth Council took the opportunity to gather the concerns of Harford County residents through a survey administered at the 1st annual EdgeWoodstock Festival on Saturday, August 3, 2013.
I am presenting the results of the survey and comments to help provide a clear view of how individuals and families have been impacted by these two issues. A copy has been provided to the Board.
Over 57% of the respondents reported they are being directly impacted by the changes to the Harford County Public Schools transportation policy. Sixty-seven percent of the respondents believe that children or that their specific child has a greater likelihood of being harmed or injured due to these changes.
Recommendation: The Board was very limited in its ability to meet the school system’s educational needs based upon the reduced funds provided by the County Executive. It is the NAACP Youth Council’s recommendation to the Board to urge the County Executive to increase funds for the Harford County Public Schools’ Education Budget in order to provide adequate funding so that there is a level playing field of all students. Thus, the changes to the transportation policy and implementation of Pay to Play/Participate would not be necessary.