As all districts do, Newton offers a waiver process for the fees it imposes, except for parking. The School Committee also instituted a “super cap” of $1,800 per family, which applies to all fees except the elementary early morning program, preschool tuition, school lunches, and parking fees.
“We’re trying to work with parents who have trouble paying the fees,” said Sandra Guryan, deputy superintendent and chief administrative officer for the school district.
She said the district is tracking data on participation in clubs and activities to see whether the fee increases have had an effect on participation.
Scott Perrin, athletic director at Newton South High School, said that participation in varsity and junior varsity sports programs at the high school held steady last year, despite the fee increases, and that there were increases in some areas, such as wrestling and hockey.
“We did get some new requests for waivers, and we were able to help the students,” he said.
Arlington High parents have been complaining about high athletic fees since the School Committee more than doubled some fees in spring 2010.
In June 2011, the board dramatically cut most of the fees; cross-country, for example, went from $480 to $100.
The school still has the distinction of having the highest one-sport fee among area communities, charging $700 for hockey. Those playing football this fall for the Spy Ponders will pick up a $500 tab.
In Westborough, the School Committee increased the high school and middle school activity fees for this school year to $200 per activity or sport, with an expanded family cap of $500.
Formerly, the fees were a flat $185 for high school students and $135 for middle school students, with a $185 family cap.
“We hadn’t raised fees in a while,” said Ilyse Levine-Kanji, the School Committee’s chairwoman.
The committee has not had a lot of pushback on the increases, she said. “I think people prefer to see the increases, instead of seeing activities cut back.”
She said parents are accustomed to paying fees to have their children participate in youth sports and other activities. The increase was expected to generate an additional $107,000 above the current intake of nearly $124,000.
It was a relatively small amount, a $50 activity fee, that stirred controversy when it was passed this spring at Algonquin Regional High, which serves the towns of Northborough and Southborough.
That is because the fee was levied on all students, even those who chose not to be involved in any activities. That led to blog posts calling the $50 a tax, not a fee.
Dargan, who was chairwoman of the Northborough-Southborough Regional School Committee when the fee was passed and is still on the committee, called the fee a “budget gimmick” instead of a fair way to fund activities. Despite the waivers, she said, the fees are not based on a family’s ability to pay, nor are they deductible, as are property taxes.
Dargan wonders what is in the future for fees for activities considered part of the high school experience. “Once you open that box and set a precedent, it’s easier to continue down that road,” she said.
The idea of fees also bothers her because so many parents in Northborough and Southborough already contribute mightily to the schools with their time and money, she said.
“Are we going to have to buy books next?” she asked. “It’s a troubling trend.”
Rich Fahey can be reached at email@example.com.