Activity fees raise questions

I would have never guessed I would be THIS pleased with how our Re-Start has gone. We are already one month into the 2016-17 school year and many kinks have worked themselves out. 

I want to thank the Staples-Motley School District staff, parents and students for their willingness to be flexible and have such a positive attitude! It will take continued effort, enthusiasm and preparedness as we go through this first year. 

I didn’t actually think we would anticipate every single issue; and, lo and behold, we have run into a few bumps. As in most situations where there are misunderstandings, it boils down to communication. Here’s where we failed to communicate: 

At the July 18, 2016 Staples-Motley School Board meeting, the board approved the 2016-17 activity fee schedule. The schedule includes: athletic fees for 6-12th grade students; fine arts fees for grades 8-12; academic course fees for grades 8-12. Included is a maximum individual fee of $300 and maximum family fee of $600. 

The eighth grade students are now part of the high school. They have the opportunity to participate in high school band, choir and orchestra. With that privilege, we must also assess the fees associated with this opportunity. We sincerely apologize for not letting parents know before the school year started that these fees would be part of the transition to eighth grade. We should have communicated that clearly after the board meeting. The lack of communication was an oversight on our part and I sincerely apologize. 

I receive many complaints about the activity fees. Believe me, I wish we didn’t have to charge students to participate in any educational opportunity. Spending per pupil has increased dramatically over the past two decades. Salaries are a big part of that, but so are increased costs for utilities, technology and food. However, the simple fact is that funding from the State of Minnesota has been so lackluster for so many years that the only choice schools have had is to either charge activity fees or cut programs. 

Unfortunately, our school district has had to do both. We have cut thousands of dollars over the past 10 years to get us through some very difficult times. Education leaders have had to put things on a values balance beam to make some impossible decisions about what to cut and what to save. The fees we have had to charge have helped to save some of our most treasured programs. 

Last year, we received a decent increase in basic funding from the State of Minnesota. This year, we didn’t lose any students to declining enrollment. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. If Minnesota legislators can begin to make up for the years of little or no additional funding and our enrollment stays steady or we grow, maybe we can begin having conversations about dropping those fees in the future! 

Thank you for your patience and understanding as we work through these issues together. 


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