Howland BOE correct to end pay-to-play

The Howland Board of Education made the right move last week when it voted to eliminate the district’s pay-to-participate policy beginning next school year, and now we hope other school districts will follow suit.

The Howland pay-to-participate policy required students who participated in all extra-curricular school activities — including things like sports, marching band and even speech and debate — to pay a $100 participation fee. That cost, which covered only membership, came with no guarantee of playing time or participation within the activity. Also, it did not mean elimination of any other routine fundraising efforts needed to cover trips or parent booster-sponsored items. It also did not eliminate other expenses to the student’s family for things like necessary equipment, ticket prices, travel, etc.

Howland, obviously, wasn’t alone in instituting a pay-to-play program. The idea has become popular in many area school districts that struggle to find ways to make ends meet financially. But a growing trend to add taxes and fees doesn’t make it right. In fact, as Howland officials aptly acknowledged last week, it was placing an undue burden on families — especially those with multiple children who participate in multiple activities, all while generating about only $60,000 per year for the school district.

Simply put, the board of education and Howland Local Schools administrators decided the financial gain to the district was not worth the financial strain it placed on local families.

“We don’t like anything that imposes hardships on our students or their families. The hardship is a lot greater to the families than it is the school,” said Superintendent Kevin Spicher. “Out of a $30 million budget, pay-to-participate is a very small amount of money, but it’s a very significant hardship on our families.”

Bravo!

Spicher added he believes without the pay-to-participate policy, the district could see a big increase in participation — perhaps as high as 5 to 10 percent — next year because he thinks the policy was impeding some students from participating in activities.

As we see it, all students in every school district should have equal access to activities outside the classroom, regardless of the family’s finances. Playing sports or participating in all extracurricular activities is a crucial part of the education process. Forcing parents to make decisions about whether their kids will play baseball this spring, play an instrument in the marching band or participate in speech and debate club based solely on finances is unfair and even cruel. This type of involvement is a significant part of the high school experience and goes a long way to teaching the importance of skills like team-building, communication, leadership, cooperation and so much more that students don’t learn in the classroom.

We applaud the district for making this move and encourage others that assess a pay-to-participate fee to consider the same move.

Still, we caution the board to take steps to find effective ways to cut spending in the amount of $60,000 per year in order to operate efficiently.

Howland Schools Treasurer Rhonda Amorganos said she expects the district to focus on advertising to generate some additional funds, perhaps in the school’s sporting venues.

At the end of the day, we believe this was the right move, and we believe Howland parents will agree.

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