Editor's note: story updated 1-5-12 at 3 p.m.
Few empty seats remained at last night’s Upper Moreland School Board Programs and Services Committee Meeting. The majority of those in attendance were parents whose children participate in co-curricular activities of the Upper Moreland School District.
They came to hear a presentation by district superintendent Dr. Robert Milrod, who proposed a co-curricular activities fee for students in the middle and high schools.
“My purpose in doing this is to provide additional funds for uniforms, equipment and transportation of more than 50 miles,” Milrod said. “If we don’t have this, the money isn’t coming from the budget costs this year.”
Milrod began the presentation by discussing a comprehensive list of middle and high school co-curricular activities, limiting the list to teams related to sports, as well as the high school marching band.
He later explained that the sports-related co-curricular activities were specifically considered, as he saw those organizations with the severest needs.
In that list, coaches and faculty managers of those co-curricular activities were asked to grade their inventory, which included uniforms and equipment.
The list revealed that the majority of activities have inventory that is at mid-life or in need of immediate replacement.
Examples of inventory in need of immediate replacement would be the high school football uniforms, which are estimated to cost from $15,000 to $20,000; and the marching band uniforms, which would have a cost of $70,000.
While some uniforms and equipment are purchased or donated through outside sources, such as the Upper Moreland Booster Club and Upper Moreland Music Patrons, co-curricular organizations still rely on funding from the school district.
According to Milrod, the district currently invests over $635,000 in middle and high school co-curricular activities. On top of the previously identified needs, transportation and facilities management also factor into the co-curricular costs. However, according to Milrod, the majority of the costs go toward coaches’ salaries and benefits.
“We don’t have sufficient funds in our district budget to support our needs,” Milrod said of the total co-curricular activities costs, while noting the current tough economic climate.
Limited Number of Options
According to Milrod, the school board should consider only one option in addressing the needs for co-curricular funding.
He explained that the board shouldn’t consider reallocating funds in an already tight budget, nor should the board increase taxes specifically for co-curricular activities, due to the state’s Act 1 index of a 1.7-percent tax increase cap for the 2012-2013 school year.
Milrod’s recommended option was to develop another revenue stream altogether, in the form of an activities fee.
In this activities fee, Milrod proposes an annual fee of:
- Middle School Students
$75 for one co-curricular sport activity per student
$100 total for one student participating in multiple co-curricular sports activities
- High School Students
$100 for one co-curricular sport activity per student
$150 total for one student participating in multiple co-curricular sports activities.
Milrod added that a district-wide family cap of $250 total would go into effect for multiple students participating in multiple co-curricular sports activities.
Running the proposed fees with current student co-curricular participants, Milrod estimates that the district could have an additional $58,483 from the activity fees.
Furthermore, in his proposal, extra funds from game day ticket sales (an estimated $15,000) and the current budget for co-curricular activities ($32,000) would go toward a district account that would specifically address the co-curricular sports activities needs for their inventory and transportation of more than 50-miles.
Milrod also factored the remaining funds raised by a community group for the new Middle School Girls Soccer team, to provide an estimated $105,500 for the start of the next school year.
Finally, the proposal suggests establishing an activities fee advisory committee, which would operate under the school board.
This committe would prioritize funding needs of the co-curricular organizations. Milrod suggests having the district’s director of business; middle and high school representatives, and representatives of the Upper Moreland Booster Club and Upper Moreland Music patrons on the proposed committee.
Milrod asked the board that students enrolled in the Pennsylvania Department of Education Free and Reduced Lunch program, should either be considered exempt from the fees, have reduced fees or have their parents sign a waiver of need.
He pointed out that the Middle School has a 24.1-percent program enrollment this year, while in 2004 it was 7.5 percent. The high school currently has approximately 20 percent of its students enrolled.
“If there is an activities fee, those numbers will go up,” Milrod predicted.
A member of the Upper Moreland Booster Club suggested that such students, who may not be able to pay the fee, might be able to help out instead with other fundraising activities conducted by supporting outside organizations.
In the same vein, school board member Mark Wenik also questioned whether or not each student should pay the same amount.
He explained that a track student should not have to offset the costs of a football student, whose difference in equipment needs are significant. Milrod indicated that there are several costs factors that go into the value of any particular co-curricular sport, and such factors would have to be further discussed by the board and public.
Community Initial Reactions
Neither the school board nor the large group in attendance voiced direct opposition to the activities fee proposal last night.
Speaking after the committee meeting, Tom Winterberg, Upper Moreland Music Patrons president, said that he was personally in favor of the proposal.
“As a tax payer and a father with a student in the high school, I am okay with this,” Winterberg said.
“At this time, it will save programs that are needed, and, hopefully, in the future things will get better and we can increase other ways of revenue, other than from tax payers or students,” he said. “Otherwise, the school board will have no choice but to cut programs.”
According to Winterberg, eight years ago, the school board tried to implement a $25 fee for all co-curricular participation, whose proceeds would go toward the district’s general fund.
“The parents were dead-set against that,” Winterberg recalled. “If you’re going to charge me a fee for a sport or marching band, my money will go to my kid’s activity.”
[Updated 3 p.m., 1-5-12] There are only a handful of school districts to implement an activities fee in the county. Souderton School District's $100 fee goes toward a general fund, as oppossed to Upper Moreland's proposed shared co-curricular sports account.
Winterberg said that the proposal’s specific accountability for co-curricular sports needs helps make the activities fee attractive to parents.
With the approval by the Programs and Services Committee last night, Milrod is expected to continue the activities fee discussion at the Jan. 17 Budget and Finance Committee meeting, as well as at both committee meetings in February.