Editorial: Newport Should Take a Pass on Pay to Play

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

All too often, study committees feel obliged to recommend that some course of action be taken on whatever topic they have been convened to look into, perhaps on the theory that doing nothing is not an option. Fortunately, the Newport School District’s Fee Study Committee resisted this temptation and recommended last week against instituting fees for students to participate in extracurricular activities. We applaud this conclusion. Such fees are self-defeating for public schools, which should be doing everything possible to boost participation in sports, student clubs and organizations, and enrichment activities.

The committee was formed as the result of a warrant article that was narrowly approved by voters last spring. It was charged with undertaking a comprehensive examination of both the pros and cons of charging fees as a source of revenue and making a non-binding recommendation to the School Board. In this the nine-member committee, which met a total of four times in September and October, appears to have succeeded admirably.

It looked at charging a $35 fee per student (while granting a 35 percent waiver for students who receive free or reduced price lunches) and at capping family expenses at $125. It concluded that the revenue gained would amount to small potatoes when compared with an athletics budget of $260,000, an amount that swells to about $360,000 when co-curricular and enrichment activities and field trips are factored in.

The committee’s report also made the good point that charging fees could decrease participation in activities and erode community support for the schools, undercutting the progress the district is making. We would add that extracurricular activities are fairly often key to keeping youngsters engaged in curricular ones and therefore are sometimes vital to a successful school career. Moreover, public schools are by their nature supposed to be inclusive institutions; any financial barrier to full student participation is inimical to that mission.

The fee committee did not simply leave it at that, however. It also recommended that before imposing fees, should the board lean in that direction, it first ask administrators to seek out grants, donations and fund-raisers as an alternative. While we tend to think that public schools ought to be supported by the taxpayers rather than having to go hat in hand to seek donations, that is certainly preferable to charging participation fees. The committee also had another excellent recommendation: That if the board chooses to impose fees, it establish a maximum cost per family and a hardship waiver. It noted that about half the students in the Newport School District receive free or reduced price lunches, and that the student homeless rate is about 10 percent.

Finally it recommends that the board review its long-term tuition agreements with Goshen and Croydon with an eye to gaining compensation for students who participate in extracurricular activities in the Newport School District but do not attend the public schools.

The committee’s report is well-founded, and we hope the School Board will adopt its main recommendation when it meets next month. Whatever small gain results from a pay-to-play system hardly justifies the pain.