We all know there are two ways to balance a budget: cut costs or increase revenue. And while the Advisory Committee last night had their share of suggestions on ways to cut costs in the school budgets, they spent a fair amount of time talking about ways to bring more cash into the districts.
The main way to do that? Raise fees.
In particular, the Advisory Committee discussed with school officials the idea of raising athletic and parking fees at Algonquin and the activity fee at Trottier.
“Is it possible to find savings for taxpayers by raising modestly costs for users?” asked Advisory Committee member Tim Langella. We’re in tough times. It’s a little fairer to have the people using activities bear more of the costs.”
Langella said data he collected suggests our school districts charge less for sports and activities than other area schools.
Last year the cost to play sports at Algonquin rose from $100 to $200 per sport, and the cap of $200 per individual and $400 per family was eliminated. Parking fees also doubled from $50 to $100 per semester.
Superintendent Charles Gobron said they were still studying the effects of raising the fees last year, so he didn’t recommend raising them again this year.
Algonquin Principal Tom Mead told the committee that 460 students participated in fall sports this year, 18 fewer than last year, but winter sports saw an increase of six student athletes. He said there has been an increase in the number of families requesting to have the fees waived due to their economic situation.
Last year Trottier imposed a $25 fee per student to cover the cost of activities like inter-mural sports. Cheryl Levesque, Director of Business for the Northborough-Southborough School District, said the fee covers about 20% of the $58K it costs to run Trottier’s sports program.
Many of the programs paid for by the activity fee take place after school. “In all fairness, some parents view this as cheap after-school babysitting,” Advisory Committee member Jim Hegarty said.
But school committee members disagreed.
Southborough School Committee member Marybeth Strickland said particularly at the middle school level it’s important to have a way to engage every student — whether through a student play, the chess club, or a flag football team. “Middle school is where we lose kids,” she said.
“We don’t view them as extra-curricular,” Southborough School Committee member Susan Dargan said. “We view them as part of the curriculum.”
Referring to the plan to lay off six teachers plus additional staff next year, Advisory Committee member Al Hamilton told the school officials, “What you’re saying to me is it is more important to offer these inexpensive services than it is to have these teachers.”
Advisory Committee members suggested another way the district might be able to raise revenue would be to increase tuition for the pre-K program at Finn, a program that costs significantly less than private pre-K programs in town.
Sometimes I think the school boards view of things is just a bit off kilter, intentionally. They like to garner support for no cuts. Well, it’s time to pony up…everyone else is cutting.
Our family has always paid for our children to play sports & engage in extracurricular activities. I have no problem with raising participant fees at all.
As a parent of both an Algonquin senior and a sophomore at Roxbury Latin in West Roxbury (ie , I have very high gas and fast lane bills) I have to say that pay to play is everywhere not just in the public schools. It’s just in different forms (uniform purchases, for example) at private schools So if that means upping the fees, then it may have to hapen. Schools and organizations such as the boosters can help out if a family needs it. From what I can tell our high school activity fee is much lower than other places. Increased fundraising for these activities can also help reduce the costs. Over the past 10 years I have helped raise thousands of dollars for northboro-southboro and Gonk sports and it does help but it takes quite a bit of work to do it right.
Re: “Is it possible to find savings for taxpayers by raising modestly costs for users?” asked Advisory Committee member Tim Langella. We’re in tough times. It’s a little fairer to have the people using activities bear more of the costs.”
Yes, I agree. But are there other activities besides sports for which the fees could be raised? $200 per sport? Seriously? That’s expensive enough! What about adding small fees to activities that currently have no fees?
I shudder to think what we’ll be paying for “extras” when my girls are in middle/high school…
Jess – your children must be pretty young. It’s been my experience that many families in town spend a lot of money on club sports each year. School sports are an excellent value, in my opinion. In comparison with the $200 charged at Algonquin, the fee for my son’s fall soccer season at a local charter school was $275, if I remember correctly. There are training, field use, & travel costs involved, and in Algonquin teams play at a high level. Obviously raising the fees didn’t cause the drop in participation that might have been feared, which is great to hear.
Good question about adding small fees to activities which currently have no fees – which ones were you thinking of?
Good info, Kate and Pat. You guessed it – my girls are young! I did not go to school around here (and went to private school where one giant tuition payment covered just about everything) so “pay as you play” is a new concept to me. Good to know that our fees aren’t too outrageous, all in all.
I’m not sure which activities don’t have fees – my girls aren’t in the school system yet, so this is all new to me. But I thought I’d throw the idea out there…
Glad I found this blog – now I won’t be totally clueless about why there are extra fees for everything when my eldest goes to kindergarten in a few years.
Actually, when you look at other local high schools, we are pretty much in the middle
with regards to athletic fees… for example
Westborough charges $185/sport
Shrewsbury charges $290/sport with a family cap of $870
Holliston charges $200/sport
Ashland charges anywhere from $259 to as much as $335 (their middle school charges $259)
Hopkinton charges $125/sport (however, they also charge a bus fee of $260/student)
Pay as you play is certainly everywhere and as much as it hurts we may have to seriously
consider that those fees may (and should) go up (along with parking passes at Algonquin). I am willing to deal with the increase in fees for my kids to participate. It’s only fair.
(Small fees have already been added to afterschool activities that have previously been
free. For example, I believe Trottier has started to charge a flat $25 fee for most of their
afterschool activities. )
The value of the middle school is in the offerings and opportunities for kids to get involved before they have to “pay to play”. Let them try activities, broaden their horizons be part of a group, discover new interests. Yes, there was an activity fee started at Trottier this year, I believe so far we only have about 80% of the families paying to begin with. Middle schools are not high schools, they have a decidedly different philosphy and paying for activities, beyond what is already required would drastically reduce participation and inclusion.
For the record, I am all for paying an increase in athletic fees for participating NOT for
increasing any current flat fee charged at the middle school level. I am also a believer of
getting kids involved at the middle school level and offering as many opportunities as possible.
My feathers get a bit ruffled when Advisory board comments that “some parents view these
programs as a cheap after-school babysitting” alternative. Pretty small minded comment,
I dont think there is anyone on the Advisory Committee that does not understand the value of these extracurricular activities. But there are 2 important principles involved here.
First, it is about priorities. The budget approved by the School Committee calls for laying off 6 teachers. The fees in question do not cover the costs and so there is a net subsidy in the school budget for these activities. Given that there is a reasonable case to be made for raising fees and the sums of money are significant (enough to fund a teacher), what the current budget implies is that keeping these fees low is more important than keeping a teacher. Life is about choices and that looks like the choice that has been made. It is up to you to judge if you agree with the choice.
Second it is about responsibility – I dont think there is anyone on the Advisory Committee that does not recognize our shared responsibility to provide quality educational opportunities to the children of our town. But in an era of fiscal distress it is legitimate to ask what are the core responsibilities. Yes, there are clear social benefits to after school programs but I am also asked by people “Why should I subsidize flag football after school with my tax dollars? Isn’t that the responsibility of the parents of the children?”
Nearly 9% of all our property tax accounts in town are in arrears. Unemployement and underemployment has had a material effect on residents of our town. Senior Citizens did not get a social security increase this year. The town is facing a serious decline in non tax income. In this environment the opportunities for increasing revenue by large tax increases to fund pay raises for teachers, and other public workers is questionable. So, we find ourselves having to look at all available options and significant cuts.
I respectfully disagree….. the comment alone speaks for itself. If a few (or one) on the Advisory Board believes that, that is their right. I brought it up because I happen to feel it was an unproductive comment and did not belong at this meeting.
I agree with you that “it is about priorities”. I really don’t look at one side as the good guy
and one side as the bad. I actually find myself on different sides of the table depending on the issue.
For instance….. I respect the Advisory Boards position that the School Budget (sadly )
has to be whittled down even more….. we really have no choice here, as painful as it is. I attended the meeting Monday night and actually felt that the Board had many great suggestions of areas that need to be looked at and consistantly there was push back from the School Committe that “it’s needed” or “it’s necessary”. I don’t agree that keeping the fees low is more important than keeping a teacher. Prioritizing is not easy but it is now neccessary.
Another example; I don’t know the details or how these numbers were arrived at (maybe textbooks were replaced within 2 years, etc) but a cut of 37% in textbooks and 22% in instructional materials which effects every single child seems high (which I believe follows previous cuts from former budget years). To then have Dr. Gobron push back when an increase in athletic fees or parking permits is suggested is ludicrous. Really. Prioritize is right. IT HAS TO COME FROM SOMEWHERE! Of course it is difficult and perhaps uncomfortable to ask families to pony up more money for non acedemic activities (even if it is a part of the whole child education process) but to take textbooks and materials out of our kids hands (and perhaps even a hit to technology) is CRAZY. Here I side with Advisory. Tough
choices have to be made. I ABSOLUTELY agree that in times of fiscal distress it is legitimate to reexamine our core responsibilities to each and every child.
Another example of being on different sides depending on the issue; I do believe that the educators do know best when deciding just how many special ed. teachers or aids should be in a classroom along with a teacher. I have an 18 yr. old senior at Algonquin (along with
a 5th grader) and I have been volunteering in different capacities for all the years I was
given the option (up until Trottier). I have been in the classrooms, in the librarys, etc.
since l997….. I see firsthand the need. I see that the aids (whether they
are mandated by IEP’s or not) contribute greatly to that particular childs day but also
allows the classroom teacher to teach. On issues of teaching all our children effectively,
lets leave it up to the educators. Throwing numbers out in the air about how many
aids another town has in their classrooms is irrelevant unless you also show me numbers relating to reading levels, MCAS scores, success of SPED program, and perhaps even teacher retention rates.
There is much at risk here and because of that hope to continue to attend these meetings and continue to question both sides of the table. As parents and taxpayers we all need to take a look at the big picture and hold all sides accountable. We also need to keep ourselves informed and participate. As intimidating as
it may sometimes feel to participate in these meetings I am willing to risk showing my
naivety to keep myself in the loop and be better informed. I appreciate your reply Al and
hope to keep the discussion going in a focused, fair and healthy manner.
Have I missed some of the conversation but I haven’t seen any discussion regarding fees for taking the Bus to school. I would not be looking forward to potentially greater congestion in front of the schools in the morning with “parent-drop-offs,” but aren’t there a number of students in the morning “getting a free-ride?” What about using a “pre-paid ticket” to ride the bus?
Paul, I’m not 100% sure, but I recall hearing at some meeting or the other that the state does not allow towns to charge for bus service. Someone correct me if I’m wrong.
That said, at the Advisory Committee meeting on Monday night, Superintendent Gobron announced they’ve made changes to the school bus contract that will save Southborough about $40K next year. There will also be savings at the regional level.
From what I have learned, towns cannot charge for bussing outside of a two mile limit in the K-6 grades…that has to be offered to students free of charge. Towns can charge for bussing within a two mile limit (and for 7 & 8 grades) but the town has to have provide ‘safe and adequate’ passage ways for the ‘walkers’. Our biggest problem is our sidewalks and more importantly Route 9. Also, remember since students change schools every two years, the amount would be in a state of flux each year. For the amount of revenue ‘charging’ would generate, it may not be worth it. As for the high school, since we are a regional school district, the town is not allowed to charge for bussing. The bus contract has been re-negotiated from a 3yr to a 5 yr contract…this has saved the Algonquin budget $131,783 in addition to the $40K savings for K-8.
You ignorant people on all sides of the argument. Why are you going along with more increases? Have you average folks had any increases in the past 10 years, for some 20 years. What kind of shape is your 401K in. The robber barrons at Fidelity have done you no favors have they? Now it’s higher parking fees, more to play sports (the best way to keep kids off crack, getting pregnant and the Facebook/MTV culture). It is just a sneaky class warfare tactic because the power knows that the upper income people will go with it and the folks on the government payrolls back it as well. Less affluent folks in town will be kept from participating as fees coninue to rise. You have to start where the costs are. Un-funded state mandates (stop voting in libs and democrats – all politicians, clear them out) in special education and teacher salary and benefits (keep our teachers but have them eat the same manna we eat). Of course the upper income people in the higher end neighborhoods of Southboro can pay and will pay because they don’t want their precious school day care interupted and they want their kdis to go to the so-called best universities after HS. You average folks better get out and say no at the voting booths (dont approve overrides and increases) and hold the snobs and the teachers unions feet to the fire. Or you will be eating less (they aren”t) and turning your thermostats down further so the union led pay/benefits and your liberal state un-funded policies that are forced on our schools continue to rise.
A little bitter, but I do feel that someone must hold the teacher’s union and the Superintendant’s feet to the fire. Everyone else has given up something, it’s time the teachers come down of the pedestal and join the rest of the world.
These are difficult times for sure and it’s hard not to miss the pain and anger in your post.
Keep in mind that many of those willing to pay the increased tax burden are the ones with the least to gain.
They’ll find a way to give their children what the schools will be less able to in the future – tutoring, art and music lessons, language classes, athletic activities, trips to museums, cultural events, etc.
It’s the kids with parents that don’t have the money or time to do those things that will miss out.
Bitterness, pain and anger are one thing….. rudeness is another. We can all appreciate that
you are pissed off, but leave out the unproductive nasty name calling. You may actually have some good points underneath all that spouting but it won’t get you anywhere because of
your rudeness. Being passionate about an issue is to be commended, but couple it
with name calling and ugliness and no one will listen to you.