Activity Fee to Remain the Same

BOE discusses proposal from Slater and Finn to use bonus aid to end fee.

High school and intermediate school parents will continue paying the when school starts in September.

The briefly discussed – and dismissed – ending the during Tuesday evening’s meeting. The fee was implemented at the beginning of the 2010-2011 school year in response to Gov. Chris Christie’s to by in March 2010.

BOE members Mitch Slater and David Finn pressed the possibility of using part of the to eliminate the . The BOE decided Tuesday evening to use the to hire new personnel and upgrade the high school technology lab. Slater and Finn pressed using the funds for .

The BOE has twice defeated – on Tuesday and July 15 - Finn proposals for tax relief from the bonus aid. Finn’s Tuesday proposal was to use half the funds for tax relief. Chrisitie has pressed using the bonus aid for tax relief.

“My personal opinion is it is a parent tax,” Finn said.

Finn voted for the implementation of the when he voted to pass the in March 2010. He also voted in favor of the activity fee when to implement the fee in the summer of 2010.

“I think it is something is not fair,” Finn said Tuesday evening. “At what point do we take it away.”

Schools Superintendent Margaret Dolan said the activity fee was well implemented and stressed that no student was prohibited from participating in student activities if they could not pay the fee. The includes a $125 per year fee for students who participate in at least one athletic or theater program and a $60 a year fee for students who participate in other activities.

Students who cannot pay can seek waivers from school officials, which were easily granted this year. In addition, Dolan has noted in the past that residents have donated additional funds to offset activity fees for those in financial need.

“I think it went well this year,” she said. “When someone could not pay we did not keep a child out.”

The activity fee was implemented after the BOE proposed cutting eighth grade athletics and intermediate school musicals as part of March 2010 budget cuts following Christie’s aid cut. Parents asked the BOE to implement the fee to keep the activities in place. In prior budget years, the BOE had cut stipends for clubs at the high school and intermediate school levels.

Dolan noted this is not the first student activity fee in Westfield history. She said WHS students were paying such a fee in the 1960s as well.

“I don’t think it is the first thing to go,” Dolan said. “I think tax relief for everyone is first.”

Interim BOE Business Administrator Vincent Yaniro said that since the activity fee is considered extra revenue, a cut in the fee would reduce the total level for the two-percent tax cap that the state has imposed. He said this could reduce the amount that the BOE could raise taxes by annually.

Slater said that he would like to see the fee reviewed again in the future.

“I am unsure that we are doing anything for the stakeholders,” Slater said of the board’s decisions on the bonus aid.

Jeff B July 29, 2011 at 05:26 AM
With respect to Mr. McCready's comments, on 4/8/10, Mitch Slater wrote in the Westfield Leader, "Mr. Flynn pointed out correctly that 70 percent of the budget this year is salaries, which means a 3.9- percent increase amounts to an additional cost of $1.5 million (after subtracting $1 million in healthcare savings." That mathematically would mean that the net salary increase in the first year of the contract was about 2.3%. Furthermore, there were no contracted offsets to the 3.9% increases in the subsequent 2 years of the contract, which the Board never talks about. There would also be pension cost increases, with such costs eventually going up by the full 12% salary increase. As for dermatologist visits, if you had had skin cancer discovered by one in a place you could not personally see or knew 2 people who died of melanoma, you might have a different attitude about dissuading people from such visits and its impact on plan costs in later years. End stage melanoma costs a fortune. I think Brad makes a good point that charging an activity fee if the activity does not cause any material extra costs to the school system does not seem right at all.
Gary McCready July 29, 2011 at 11:23 AM
few quick points: - the 70 percent is all salaries and benefits, not just teacher salaries, so you can't work from just that number. - the savings number is probably off the current benefits cost - you would have to estimate the increase of the cost of the higher benefit level to be more precise - I'm not thinking of cancer, but of "pimple visits" or even getting that full body scan every year vs. every two, etc. - Teacher's will also be forced to contribute more going forward, which will have an effect on salary talks, as will increase pension contributions. The thing to push for next budget season is a full reveal of the numbers, at least enough so that the incremental cost to the district can be determined.
Concerned August 07, 2011 at 01:32 AM
What about putting the next NJEA contract up for public review and approval? This was done several years ago when the high school built the expansion. The whole budget voting process does not make sense - the public does not have the opportunity to vote on the teacher's contact, the largest component of the budget. By the time budget is put up for public voting, the NJEA contact is in place, so there's really no opportunity to vote for or against it. Gary McCready - was this ever discussed at BOE meetings in the past and what is your view on this proposal?
Gary McCready August 07, 2011 at 03:32 AM
I'd agree the whole budget voting process does not make sense - but for a different reason. For just about the only tax you get to vote on every year, the state puts on so many restrictions and limits it almost does not trust the public to cast a vote in support of what the community wants. To tie a specific expendature to the budget vote would be too limiting - if the BoE could not make a deal by the deadline, everyone would have to wait a year for a new contract or revision if it was voted down. That would adversely affect the budget process. Believe me, there was always discussion on if the a proposed contract is reasonable for all, including taxpayers who might vote against the next budget, and the budget increase in general. A better idea would be a county/state contract template every contract could be compared against to give both the BoE and the taxpayers a good idea on how it stacked up, like the data in the other link I posed re contract settlements from the school boards association.
Susan Svitil August 07, 2011 at 01:10 PM
Great idea Concerned! Put the Teachers Contract up for a vote or at least Public Meetings- 80% of our taxes go to this one source and we the people deserve to at least know more and possibly get a vote. I for one hope the teachers do not get any raise in their next contract since they were unwilling to give back any of the inflated raise they got a few years ago.


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