A state assemblyman plans to reintroduce a bill that would prohibit school districts from charging students to participate in sports and other extracurricular activities.
Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-Cumberland, Gloucester, Salem, tried to get a similar bill passed in 2009. He said he dropped the issue for awhile because few school districts were instituting fees.
But, he said Monday, the topic has been coming up again, and he wants to have a statewide discussion of what should be included in a public education. He said charging fees also are a way for districts to get around the 2 percent cap on increasing the property tax levy.
“Public education should be a benefit to all, not an ‘a la carte’ service,” he said. “We wouldn’t charge students to take a special advanced class.”
Locally, Egg Harbor Township plans to charge a $100 fee this year to students in the middle and high schools who participate in sports or other extracurricular activities. Parents will pay a flat fee of $100 per child, with a maximum of $200 per family no matter how many activities they participate in.
Superintendent Scott McCartney said he believes that extracurricular activities are critical to preparing well-rounded students and are key elements in helping students compete for scholarships.
But, he said, with the current financial considerations, the fees are a way of keeping programs that might otherwise be eliminated.
EHT’s policy was adopted three years ago, but was used only one year at the middle school level when all clubs and athletic programs had been eliminated. McCartney said with the fees and donations from the Community Partnership Foundation and others, the district was able to restore the programs. The following year, the district received additional state aid, so the fees were not charged.
McCartney said for 2013-14 they will charge the fee, but have restored services that had been cut. He estimated the fee will raise $40,000 to $60,000, which will help cover the costs of running the programs.
Michael Pellegrino, supervisor of athletics and activities at EHT schools, said students were told of the fees in the spring. So far, there have not been any problems or students who said they could not participate because of the fee.
There is no specific number of how many districts are charging fees. The New Jersey School Boards Association did some tracking in 2011 and found at that time that more than 50 districts were charging some type of fee, typically between $50 and $100. It noted that some districts had instead opted to cut programs.
The NJSBA supported allowing fees in the past as a way to save programs that might otherwise be cut. Spokesman Frank Belluscio said they would monitor the new bill as it is introduced.
Burzichelli said he sees the fees as being no different than municipalities raising fees to generate revenue beyond the property tax cap. There is currently a bill in the state Legislature to address those municipal fees, and he said the school fees could be wrapped into the same bill, or be introduced as a separate bill.
“I don’t think school boards want to charge fees,” he said. “But they are feeling financial pressures. I just want to get the discussion started.”
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