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D161 official suggests reduction in extracurricular fees

A Summit Hill District 161 official is looking to reduce extracurricular fees assessed to families to encourage greater student participation.

“[Superintendent Barb] Rains was adding some fee information comparing our district to other districts around us concerning fees for all our different activities,” Board President Rich Marron said. “I wanted to propose something a little different and a little bit out of the norm as opposed to just approving our fees.”

Marron wanted this item on the agenda to open up discussion during the Oct. 30 meeting.

“I tie [this proposal] directly back to how we spend tax dollars,” he said.

District 161 currently collects extracurricular fees valued at $50, while Marron’s suggestion aims to reduce the amount to a $10 maximum.

History shows that fees have increased over the years, with uncertainty created over State of Illinois funding.

“However, given the activities of the school board and the district from 2003—and I’m referring to 2003 because that’s the last time we had the referendum—the school district is in a pretty good financial place, whether you agree with how we got here or not [is] not really relevant,” Marron said. “We’re in a pretty good financial place.”

Marron said there is no extracurricular activity he can think of where parents are not already burdened by costs or time management.

District 161, for example, does not provide transportation for students who are involved in after-school activities.

“Given our financial condition [and] given the tremendous value that’s here, I think that it’s time we get rid of the fee-based boundaries from kids joining these activities,” Marron said.

Board member Patricia Martin said she appreciates the thought Marron has put into the proposal.

“I just think there’s a lot of kids who are doing it for whatever reason,” she said.

Research shows there a number of benefits to extracurricular activities, including greater bonds between students and staff, higher continuance of education through college years, and helps with academics, lowers dropout rates and builds self-esteem.

“While the fee structure appears to be extremely clear that we have right now, it is as clear as mud,” Marron said. “There are ways the fees can be waived, but it involves the parents having to talk to the superintendent, and, of course, there is a certain amount of pride to go [through the process.]”

Last year, District 161 collected approximately $100,000, excluding P.E. uniforms, to make up less than 0.25 percent of the 2017 operating budget.

Marron said this is a lot of amount money generated, but in the context of a $40 million budget, it is not.

The district spent roughly $450,000 on extracurricular activities last year, which makes for 1-1.3 percent of its budget, depending if one looks at it operationally or overall.

“Other activities, especially at the K-4 level, we do collect fees on activities and the stipends are paid by the [School Community Organizations,] so that really doesn’t make any sense because we’re collecting fees for something we didn’t even pay for,” Marron said.

Marron wants the district to start focusing on what value school officials, students and the curriculum get from extracurricular activities, talk about where the board wants to invest its dollars, work to do activity selection, encourage alignment and progression across the schools, address scheduling to encourage participation and promote use of extracurricular activities with overall school programs concerning Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, academics and discipline.

“We are the center of the District 161 community,” Marron said. “At one point in time, Lincoln-Way North was there. Now, that kind of became the de-facto center of the community, rightly so, but again, you’ve got 3,000 students in our care and we’ve become again the center of Frankfort Square, Tinley Park, Frankfort, Mokena neighbors.”

The extracurricular fees, if approved, would go in to effect next year.

Marron has an eighth-grader in the district this year, meaning the proposal, as presented, has no bearing on him and his family.

Board member George Leonard questioned the proposal and said if officials are going to consider the idea presented, why not remove the fee altogether.

Marron said the fee, whether the maximum amount is lesser or greater than $10, is meant to encourage families to examine their student’s intent to participate in extracurricular activities.

The Board of Education came to a consensus to the table the measure until the board’s Nov. 8 meeting and move the proposal forward to administration to establish guidelines, procedures and processes to reinvest into extra- and co-curricular activities any funds collected from district activity fees, gate fees, ticket sales or other funds generated by groups. That is not to take into account regular team, club or group dues beyond the $10 district fees, which may include fundraising and/or special assessments for equipment, activities or gifts.

Round it up

A brief recap of action and discussion from the Oct. 30 regular meeting of the Summit Hill District 161 Board of Education:

  • Officials accepted the 2017-2018 improvement plans for the schools and the district.

  • District staff has met with representatives from Tria Architecture to begin planning some summer 2018 projects. That includes boiler replacements for Hilda Walker Intermediate School and chillers at Dr. Julian Rogus School. The projects aim to address air quality and promote a comfortable environment for students, faculty and staff. Outside of these projects, the district intends to complete some repairs and renovations of roofs.

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