Published in the January 30, 2017 edition.
By MARK SARDELLA
WAKEFIELD — With about a month to go before Superintendent Dr. Kim Smith brings her proposed School Department budget to the School Committee, it appears that user fees (also called “activity fees”) will be an integral part of the this year’s budget discussions.
School Committee member Thomas Markham, who chairs the Finance and Facilities Subcommittee, said that he wanted to initiate a conversation around user fees and their impact on the FY 2018 budget. He noted that he wanted to have those discussions of user fees concurrent with discussion of the FY 2018 budget.
Charging “user fees” for select services and materials in public schools has raised objections that charging fees violates a student’s right to a free public education under state law. Given the fiscal constraints faced by school districts, many charge user fees for sports, transportation, materials and extracurricular activities.
Markham said that the Finance and Facilities Subcommittee had requested data from School Business Administrator Thomas Pfifferling to help the subcommittee as it analyzed three questions related to user fees for sports and other extracurricular activities:
• What is the burden of user fees on families?
• What is and is not the responsibility of the taxpayer to provide to all students?
• What is the impact of user fees on student participation in activities?
Markham proposed a three-step process to move the consideration of user fees forward. He said that the Finance and Facilities Subcommittee will have one more discussion of user fees at its Jan. 24 meeting. Then they will bring the results of those discussions to the full School Committee on Feb. 14. Finally, Markham said, he would like the public to participate in the discussion at the March 14 public hearing on the FY 2018 School Department budget.
School Committee Chairman Greg Liakos noted that people usually think of user fees in connection with athletics and the performing arts, but Markham pointed out that the fees extend into other areas of the budget as well. He said that the Finance and Facilities Subcommittee discussed “all of it” and thought it best not to limit the discussion.
“You can’t discuss athletic fees as if they exist on an island,” he said. “If you talk about user fees, you should talk about all of them.
Pfifferling said that he would provide the data on participation rates. Markham said that the subcommittee would also like to see data on what the total revenue has been from user fees and what the total expense of running the programs.
In other budget-related matters, Liakos noted that Smith is expected to bring her draft FY 2018 budget to the School Committee in late February with the vote on the budget expected in late March.
Smith said that she and Pfifferling have been working on the budget, poring over requests. An important piece of the process, she said, is what she heard at budget forums earlier this month and the feedback that had been coming in from via the online budget survey on the School Department’s web site.
The survey, which is still open on the School Department’s web site (wakefieldpublicschools.org/WPS/), asks parents and community members as well as school faculty administration and staff to weigh in on what they feel should be the priorities in the FY 2018 School Department budget.
Smith told the School Committee that to date there had been a total of 320 survey responses, including 143 from parents and the community and 177 responses from faculty, staff and administration.
Smith noted the number 1 priority for parents and the community is STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curriculum and resources. Among school faculty and staff, increased resources for professional development is the number 1 priority, along with more special needs teachers.
In other business last week the School Committee reviewed a first draft of the 2017-2018 school year calendar.
They also approved a high school field trip to London in the spring of 2018 and gave permission for the Wakefield Independence Day Committee to use the Galvin Middle School parking lot for their annual fundraising Carnival during spring school vacation.