Three-tiered plan likely to be up for adoption at January school board meeting
By Mike McGann, Editor, UnionvilleTimes.com
EAST MARLBOROUGH — Although nothing is in stone as yet, the likely structure of activity fees for the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District came into sharper focus during the December school board meeting.
The board will likely lock in the final numbers at the January meeting, but after months of discussion, focus groups and study, it looks like the district will adopt a three-tier range of fees of $25, $50 and $75, depending largely on the expense of the activity.
The move to standardize and increase activity fees came out of the budgeting process this past spring — when the administration attempted to raise funds by instituting an activity fee, only to discover that a crazy quilt of fees and booster club fees made it difficult to fairly apply such a fee increase. The short-term budget gap was made up by increasing fees for high school student parking, but the need to standardize the fee structure for middle and high school activities became evident. As it turned out, there were also some liability concerns raised — as boosters were paying for some expenses that are more properly covered by the school district — and some concerns whether those expenses also were a violation of the federal Title IX regulations which mandates equal spending on boys’ and girls’ athletic programs.
The quest to create a fair fee structure led to a lengthy investigative process, starting in September, with 13 focus groups, a process shepherded by John Sanville, the district’s Director of Secondary Education. Sanville made a presentation during the Dec. 13 board meeting, issuing what was called a “preliminary final report” on the issue, including a great of public comment, meeting notes, focus group information and some of the various emails from those involved in the process.
Sanville cautioned that the proposal was still subject to change, as input continues to come in, but the basic form of what school board members will see in January seems to be rounding into shape.
The fees will apply to all activities in middle school and the high school, with the exception of “service activities.” Although the list of exempt activities will have to be finalized by the board, programs such as Student Council, Habitat for Humanity and Best Buddies were cited as examples of the kind of activities — those that either serve the greater school community or the Unionville community will not be subject to activity fees.
Board director Jeff Lesier, who chaired the board communication committee in 2010 (2011 committee assignments have not been announced as yet), which took the point on the activity fee fact finding process, said he felt confident in the fee structure — “you didn’t just pull these numbers out of the air” he said to Sanville during the meeting.
Communication, he said, proved to be crucial in the process. There was some initial resistance, mostly driven by worry, Lesier said.
“People were afraid we were going to charge $500 for football,” he said. Instead, although fees could increase in future years — noting that football costs the district about $750 per player — this step represents “a reasonable letting out of the clutch.”
The fees discussed could still change — as directors expressed opinions about the fees being both too low and too high. Keith Knauss, who served as finance committee chair in 2010, suggested doubling the fees, to more closely reflect the costs to the district. Leiser cautioned against that — saying “sticker shock” might be an issue and that it might be better to get there in a series of steps over the next few school years. He also noted that it would be important to see the impact on participation and whether fees were keeping students out of activities.
Meanwhile, Jeff Hellrung suggested capping the fees at $50, noting that activities are almost as important as academics when it comes to the entire educational experience.
For families unable to afford the fees, as is currently the case, accommodation will be made. There will also be a “per-student” cap in yearly fees, important, as the typical Unionville student who participates in activities averages three activities per school year.