Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Will T/E School Board Include an Activity Fee in the 2011-12 Budget?

On the eve of the Special T/E School Board meeting, there is much discussion on the $8.8 million deficit for the district’s 2011-12 school year and its challenge. Over the last couple of weeks, I do not recall much discussion about the possibility of adding an activities fee to the 2011-12 budget. If you recall, the T/E School Board passed the 2010-11 school year budget without the inclusion of an activity fee. The estimated $80K in activity fee revenue was removed before the passage of the final budget. The consensus at the time was there was not enough time to look at the details required for such an assessment. However, it was thought that some form of an activity fee should be discussed for inclusion in the 2011-12 budget.

Every year, students of all ages opt for extra-curricular activities. The activity may not be high-profile football or some other “major” high school sports. The involvement may be in the performing arts or any variety of positive clubs or organizations that contribute to making school kids better citizens. Depending on the activity, the kids and their parents may spend a lot of personal money on extra-curricular expenses (sports workout clothing, voice or instrumental music lessons, club-related materials, etc.). In addition, along with time spent on their studies, these students spend inordinate amounts of time practicing to become better performers or working for the good of the club. It’s also not uncommon for them to devote many hours of added time with fund-raisers to defray organizational expenses. Parents are not to be spared, either. Any parent of an “involved kid” at school will tell you about driving kids to and from practice, helping with fundraisers, etc. So how do we feel about imposing an activity fee on the T/E students and their families? Do you think that an activity fee will impact participation?

Checking other school districts, Lower Merion, Coatesville, Phoenixville, Owen J. Roberts and Kennett school districts currently have no additional activity fees. (I was not able to verify that Radnor School District imposes an activity fee – maybe a reader knows the answer.) Great Valley and West Chester school districts do not currently have an activity fee but are considering such a fee for the 2011-12 school year. The Downingtown school district charges their activity fee at a flat rate of $25 per sport.

Unionville-Chadds Ford School District currently has an activity fee but is considering an increase for next year’s budget. Their suggested approach is a creative four level-tiered schedule – $10, $25, $50 and $75 depending on the type of sports and student activity. The fees will cover many kinds of activities from math and academic clubs to participation on sports teams, like football and basketball. With the increase, the activity fees will generate an annual income of $133.00. The calculation of fees was based on total cost of the activity, an amount not to exceed 20% of the total cost. Using football fees as an example, the proposed increase is 200%, from a current $25 fee to $75; the increase would still be under the 20% of total cost.

If T/E adds an activities fee to the 2011-12 budget, how would the assessment be applied . . . per activity, per sports involvement? Would the charge be an annual assessment per student or per family? Will the assessment be a flat rate or a creative multi-tiered approach? Where does the T/E school board stand on the activity fee subject? I will be curious to see if the activity fee subject is discussed at tomorrow night’s special School Board meeting.

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  1. Activity fees would produce a small drop in the bucket to resolve the shortfall. They would have the effect of discouraging students of lesser means from participating in activities. These students would miss the chance to join their friends, develop their interests, and make their college applications more compelling. I believe a public education should provide equal access to all students to those things considered an important part of a student’s development and college aspirations. If we think activities have value, they should be equally available to all.

    And I believe those who say financial aid would be offered to those students who need it underestimate the stigma of forcing them to apply for charity. Even the most secure family in TE could be in distress tomorrow if surprised by a loss of job, serious illness or divorce. Why nickel and dime those having a hard time, when it won’t begin to solve the problem?

  2. This is a no brainer — if parents pay for a parking spot then for sure they should have no problem with an activity fee.
    On a more sensitive topic — and that is school taxes in general. It is my belief that families with multiple children in the district should have to pay for each additional child. That is — if zero to one kid in school then tax as usual. If more than one child in school – multiply the tax by the number of students in the family, Where else can a family of 2 or more children go for the same costs of that of a family of three?? The movies — air travel – dinner — etc.???
    It is time to think OUTSIDE the box…. or as this Board does — refer it to a study for another several years…

    1. And if you paid for a house that has a high assessment, you can surely afford 1% of your property value in taxes. If you cannot afford the taxes, you probably should sell the house. This is NOT a private community — it is a public school. They have a mandate to provide an education to anyone who comes through the door. People that move here have an obligation to pay the freight. Don’t confuse being prudent with being cheap. Our taxes are low – especially for the product. We need to stop pretending they are not. It’s not our money. It’s our debt. The taxes are due.

  3. The $80,000 from Activity Fees is listed as one of the “Level 2” items for the 2011/12 budget. In general this list is the more extreme items that were identified this year as a way to close the budget gap from expense reductions only. I suspect that the Board will exclude all of these items from the preliminary budget to be voted on tonight.

    I think that such a fee (universally applied) is not a bad idea. Agreed, the amount involved is not large in the context of the total deficit, but neither is it immaterial. And even a small weighting of the costs towards users might make the 80% of taxpayers not directly benefiting from the expenditures feel better about a larger overall tax increase – once their money in the General Fund piggy bank is at a reasonable level.

  4. I support the activity fee for the high school.

    However, in talking with some of the school board members, they expressed similar concerns to Dariel. Apparently there would be some type of automatic exception for students on free and reduced lunch, and the fees would be waived via the guidance office (confidentially) for students in need. I agree that we shouldn’t nickel and dime those having a hard time, but many taxpayers are also in distress. Shouldn’t students/parents pay a larger portion of the “optional” things that aren’t required by law? Many of our students can afford the fee and I doubt any would refuse to pay it– especially since it is such a small percentage of the actual activity costs and since activities are so important for college applications. But I agree with Dariel that the board needs to make sure exemptions and aid exists for those who couldn’t afford the fee.

    Also, it does not appear that TESD is looking at a large fee or a even a fee per activity/sport. They have discussed a flat fee that would cover all activities. Is it really that unreasonable to ask a student to pay something like $50 or $100 a year to participate in extracurriculars/sports? (Again..assuming that students in need get a waiver.)

    Or do you think it is reasonable to ask the taxpayers to foot the whole cost for these activities which are not mandated by law? The true cost of something like football to the district is well over $1000 per student. Perhaps this is why so many other districts are dropping sports/activities. Pattye’s comments didn’t mention districts who have reduced activities/sports– which is way more common than adding a small fee that covers less than 10% of the average students’ activity costs.

    Finally, the fee is indeed a symbolic drop in the bucket, but it is a drop in the bucket that would pay for 1 extra teacher or 1 extra guidance counselor or perhaps extra books for the library– things that might otherwise be cut due to financial concerns. So let’s not pretend that the money isn’t important or that tradeoffs aren’t necessary.

    1. Well said. Symbolic. But Dariel is also right. Do you want your kid to have to go to guidance and say they cannot afford to be in the band? Should we require every parent who enrolls a child to fill out a FAFSA….to prove who can afford what? Here’s the deal — you bought the house and you pay the taxes. With that comes the access to a public education. Be involved in getting that education pared back, but don’t try to make it about users paying. Your house is worth more because of that school. You pay while your live here.

    1. Well I do not agree.
      We would have to raise our taxes almost 50% to reach some other neighboring district levels, and we have to compete in that marketplace to hire teachers and to sell houses.
      Likewise, the SB is hardly a business — they are restricted from lowering wages or cutting personnel. They can only hire people who have the credentials for jobs. They have to educate everyone who comes through the door, regardless of the ultimate cost of each student. I think they even have to pay to educate someone they expell unless they are more than 16. What business has those kinds of lmitations? Oh, and they deal with a union that has the power to strike and shut down a community service without any penalty to the union.

      If you look at the teacher’s salaries, they are competitive but not really high. I think the starting salary might be too high, but if I understand other people’s comments, you cannot offer less in the next year than someone would be making this year. Also, if our starting salary was lower, wouldn’t we have a hard time hiring new teachers?

      So if we cannot legally stretch our dollars, shouldn’t we try to maintain our credit raiting and pay the bills. I think the highest property tax paid around here is about $10,000 a year. That’s high, but a 2% increase is $200. Is THAT too much. A 4% increase would be 400. I would pay that.

      I moved here because of the schools. My school taxes are nothing compared to my mortgage costs and my insurance costs. This is not a cheap place to live. At least with the schools, I got to decide which district to support. I think somoene said that the schools around King of Prussia are cheaper. I wasn’t interested in those. Why are we trying to keep our scools cheap?

    2. Sorry I didn’t see this before I answered some above. Who else should pay the bill? They cannot sell the service. They have to provide a FAPE – (free and appropriate education?) … Special Ed families move here knowing that the pockets are deeper. If we charge activities fees, or double taxes per child, then we are not a public school – we are a private school that cannot refuse admission. A business has an opportunity to shut down; or to change products, or to hire new people at a cheaper rate. I don’t think the school can do ANY of that, can they? And stop with the education. You are a computer person. Can someone with a PhD in education out-perform a masters in computer science? Then don’t talk about your own education being relevant to being a professional educator. Everyone went to school, so everyone thinks they are knowledgable. And you are not “more educated” — you are trained in a field. Stop with the bravado and work with the information we can use.

  5. I find it interesting that anon80 has a comment and/or criticism for every person that posts. Don’t know who he/she is but wonder if Pattye has ever considered limiting how many comments anyone individual can make, especially on the same post. Self-control.

  6. It’s an exchange of information. I am only responding. The other guy JP does the same. I find him annoying. I’m testing to see who cares.

    Don’t read it if you don’t like it. seriously. I’m responding tonight to the comments as I read them.

  7. Anon80-

    You write, “Here’s the deal — you bought the house and you pay the taxes. With that comes the access to a public education.”

    Well…here’s the real deal: Sports and activities aren’t mandated by law. Sports and activities are not a “right.,” and the district can cut them completely.

    Would you rather they do what other districts do? Options include: cutting less popular teams and activities, eliminating middle school sports, or making athletics/activities entirely self-funded. These options are MUCH more popular state-wide than TE’s proposed activity fee because they save more money.

    So should the school district cut a whole team or club sports (club is a different category than Varsity or JV) rather than charging an activity fee to students who can pay it?

    Or should they preserve sports and activities at all costs and find a way to cut the $80,000 elsewhere from the budget by reducing aides, increasing class size, etc?

    Or do you propose that they just keep raising taxes higher and higher? That seems to be the position of most parents– “Keep everything the same until my child graduates!” and “Let everyone else pay for it since our tax burden is low compared to Lower Merion and Radnor.”

    Here’s a hint to the “let’s tax more crowd,” nobody is preventing you from paying extra taxes. If you think your tax burden is so low, then perhaps you could write an extra check to the school? Funny how so many in the “let’s tax more crowd” of parents also oppose the activity fee, which is actually a type of a tax on parents. Isn’t that a bit hypocritical?

    1. Sports aren’t mandated. Neither are leveled courses, AP courses, foreign language, smaller classes, PE. And ask the schools how much they spend on state testing? Those are “mandates.” Which programs do you think add value to the community? And I think that former and current parents participate in FLITE — which is the non profit foundation that supplements the district already. They do write c hecks. Same way people write mortogage checks. Part of yoru mortgage obligation is your school taxes.

  8. As I read this, I think there are far more camps than the “don’t tax more” or “tax away” options. Anon80 seems a bit harsh in his comments, but I think that it’s going to be very hard to come to terms with this subject. I just read the update from last night’s SB meeting and it seems that some favor a referendum — which is just a political easy way of voting down any increase. because the population is so heavily dominated by people who no longer have folks in the schools.

    I understand the hesitation about an activity fee, and I agree that it can be incredibly stigmatizing for anyone to have to ask for help. I think we need to have a larger forum to talk about these things — yelling and bickering left at the door. Last year the District had a major deficit and made up much of it through their identification of possible cuts. I am extremely opposed to any “short term” fixes, because all that does is kick the can down the road. When you rely on one-time fixes (including federal stimulus), you make your next deficit that much bigger.

    So I guess I’m not for tax more, but I am for taxing….as it occurs. A 4.2% tax increase will take the mills to 18.73. On my famous house valued at $500,000 and therefore assessed at $277,000, that makes the tax increase of $210 for a total tax bill of about $5190. (The difference between that number and the “max” they can tax under act 1 is $140 — the increase would be $70 for the act 1 1.2%).
    Now — they talk about the average bill — but this is about a specific house. If you have a house valued at $1M, double it.

    Now — I recommend anyone unable to attend last night (including me) go to the district website and follow the money. There are some assumptions I certainly plan to take issue with — but we have to come to some conclusions. I would like to take the 4.2% for this year (I’m assuming I’ll end up agreeing with the assumptions and that’s the best option in my opinion). and givve the US Economy one more year to improve. It also means next year we do a contract with a do or die approach. The TENIG contract wasn’t very stringent, and the assumptions about increases in costs for non-contract employees is 4% going forward. I think that’s too high and would ask the board to reassess that. If the market improves, then the next year will be easier to manage. . If next year we don’t see a stabilizing of the housing market and upward trends in transfer and interim taxes (which starts to reduce the deficit while the tax base catches up), then I think it’s time to redo all of it….programs, aides, admins, sports, transportation. But no “one time” savings this year — that just compounds itself next year.

    As to one-time tax on parents. My kids are done so I can only speak to what I know to be the hard part of being a kid in our community — the “haves” can afford it all, but the have nots can get really marginalized. I don’t know how you can assess an activity fee and separate out what criteria other than free/reduced lunch would qualify for help.

    Good luck to us all.

  9. It seems as though we are talking over one another in this thread and that is too bad. I have 2 children in the district and it is quite clear to me that a tax increase is necessary. While it is a hard pill to swallow, the property tax is the fairest way to ensure that the haves pay more than the have nots. I probably fall into the haves camp so I know I will get hit. On the whole, TE is a fantastic school district.

    We need to take a long-term perspective. Having such a quality school district helps everyone’s property values over the long-run. Just look at how well values have held up compared to some other places. By the way, I do know that some will be hurt by the tax increase and it will not be 100% fair.

    However, cutting programs is not the answer. Dozens have already been cut. I lived on a beautiful, tree lined street where the school district was awful. The effect was much lower propery values. That is in no one’s best interest.

    I do agree that the unions for the teachers must be reigned in. It is an abomination that they are allowed to hold the community hostage. Both local Democrat an Republican politicans agree on this point. Some shared pain (a healthcare co-pay and employee pension contributions) is necessary.

    An activity fee does very little to solve the overall problem. Some of it will be helped by a, hopefully, improving economy. I am sure that there is waste in the school district. Every large entity suffers from that. If the school district was smart they would have some very qualified parents (or any resident) create a panel and find the waste. Of course, the teacher’s union would go nuts even though I would bet that 95% of the waste is administrative in nature.

    Anyway, the bottom line is that I am thankful that we live in a quality school district and don’t want that to change.

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