Club special: Extracurricular activity fees lower budget gap

The Newtonite

by Hilary Brumberg
Since the day a slightly shorter and more impressionable version of junior Amiya Seligman entered this school two years ago, she has been drilled with one of this school’s most common maxims: “Try new things. Get involved. Make the most of the opportunities here.”
And she has. Seligman has risen through the ranks of Model United Nations and is now an under-secretary general. She is also an active member of the girls’ Ultimate Frisbee team.
However, along with all other students who participate in clubs, Seligman is now required to pay $125 to participate in Model U.N. and Ultimate.
“It seems unfair to push students to try new things, while placing a price behind it,” Seligman said.
Two years ago, the School Committee was facing a $4 million budget deficit, so it added fees for participation in school-sponsored non-athletic extracurricular activities, according to Sandra Guryan, deputy superintendent and chief administrative officer. Involvement in unlimited clubs costs $125 and participation in drama productions costs $150 per show, depending on the student’s role.
At the first or second meeting of clubs this fall, advisers will hand out notices from the Newton Public Schools notifying students and parents of the fees and explaining how to pay them, according to Cindy Bergan, assistant superintendent for secondary education and special programs.
Students can pay the fees online, by mail or in person at the NPS’ Office of Business and Finance. Fee waivers can be attained at the Office of Business and Finance.
Club advisers will send rosters to science teacher Michael Hazeltine, who oversees clubs at this school, and he will send them to the Office of Business and Finance in November. Then, the Office of Business and Finance will use the club rosters to keep track of who has paid and follow up with the students who have not paid, Bergan explained.
Bergan does not anticipate any resistance to the activity fee. “People pay,” she said. “It’s not really an issue.”
Last school year was the first year student activity fees were collected from students, and significantly fewer fees were collected than the district had estimated.
It was estimated that 2,000 students would pay the fee last year, but the fee was collected from only 282 high school students.
Guryan attributes the gap between the estimate and reality to students adjusting to paying the fees and a miscount of the number of high school students who participate in clubs.
Due to “tighter controls of fee collection,” it is estimated that 810 students between the two Newton high schools will pay the fee this year, generating $101,250 for the NPS, according to Guryan. This account will go toward paying the stipends of club advisers.
Hazeltine explained that the student activity fee is counter-productive for many clubs.
For example, Orange Shield, whose sole mission is community service and fund raising, is subjected to the fee, Hazeltine said.
“As a group, they raise less money per student than they would pay in the activity fee,” he said. “It would do more good to disband the club and have the parents donate the money to a local charity.”