NEWTOWN SQUARE–In part three of the five-part series of recommendations to the budget made by the Marple Newtown School Board appointed seven-member Community Budget Committee, is recommendations on activity fees for the district.
The committee was formed in September and has been meeting monthly since then to review the district's budget and to analyze revenues and costs of district operations. Committee member Jim Lanzalotto urged the school board to communicate more openly with the public about the limitations they are faced with in the budget due to state mandates.
Opportunities to reduce costs and for potential revenue growth in the budget were discussed in five areas: Transportation, Facility Usage, Activity Fees, Advertising & Sponsorships, and Virtual Learning.
Marple Newtown Patch will cover the topics in a five-part series.
Facts & Figures
In 2009, Marple Newtown School District implemented an activity program for all students (sixth grade and older) participating in extracurricular programs. Families in financial need are granted waivers.
The current extracurrical fee is set at $75 per student annually. But families with more than one student participating in activities will be capped at $150 per year.
The program currently generates approximately $84,000 per year for approximately 1,000 students participating in extracurricular activities.
"The interesting thing is that operating the programs was at $931,000 in 2010-11," said Lanzalotto. "So, the question is not whether we should but howe we should reset those fees [to offset costs]?"
According to Lanzalotto, the committee compared the cost of $75 per year in the district for a student participating in extracurricular activities to the cost for a student who participates in the local leagues in town such as the Marple Newtown Soccer League ($115); Marple Newtown Basketball Association ($90); or the Newtown Edgmont Little League ($85).
In addition, the committee compared Marple Netown's extracurricular fees to districts in the nation with a comparable budget to Marple Newtown's approximate $68 million. The districts ranged from $46 million budgets to $102 million budgets with activity fees as high as $720 for ice hockey and gymnastics to as low as $50 for the spring play.
"These are suburban districts facing the same things we face," said Lanzalotto. "And what they're trying to do is to stay ahead of the curve."
"Looking at the data and looking at the fact that you have an operating base that is 10 times the revenue base you have here, you need to start thinking about something," said Lanzalotto.
Lanzalotto recommended that the board continue to offer a fee waiver for families who are financially strapped.
One of the recommendations Lanzalotto mentioned was to analyze which sports cost more to operate and which sports cost less to operate to develop a market- and activity-based model.
"We know the band parents are an incredible fundraising machine so we know it can be done," said Lanzalotto. "There are great organizations in this district that can generate cash. PTOs are the best example of having that happen."
In return, by taking this model approach, Lanzalotto questioned the possible return of intramural activities–start off small and expand over time.
Another idea Lanzalotto brought to the table was reducing the burden of non-participating students to cover the costs of the extracurricular program.
"Effectively what you're doing is you have the non-participants funding the participants at a high scale," said Lanzalotto. "So, is there a way to shift that burden more onto the kids who are participating–a little more of a self-responsibility. I think it just makes sense. The important thing to understand here is we have the opportunity to make it more of an equitable environment for everybody."