By Liz Nolan, Contributing Writer
Northborough/Southborough – The Northborough Southborough Regional School District received a parent initiated complaint through the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) problem resolution system. Currently, Algonquin Regional High School (ARHS) has a mandatory annual $50 student activity fee for all students. Per Massachusetts General Law, the fee cannot be charged to a student who does not participate in any extracurricular activities.
Superintendent Greg Martineau and Director of Finance Rebecca Pellegrino are in the process of remediating any issues so the District is in alignment with the law.
Martineau said that part of that process is to work on a multi-year plan “with some pathways in the future years of how we can reduce the fees we are charging Algonquin students.”
The proposed plan would be presented to Regional School Committee (RSC) members in April or May.
Mandatory fees implemented in 2012
In February 2012, the RSC members unanimously voted for the fees. They were embedded in former Superintendent Dr. Charles Gobron’s Fiscal Year 2013 budget recommendations.
Since then, it has been a common topic of discussion. Many current RSC members are in favor of the elimination of student fees.
Students who drive to school have to pay parking fees, which are used for parking lot maintenance. Students who participate in sports have athletic fees to pay each season they participate.
Activity fees have been mandatory for all students regardless if they participate in any extracurricular clubs or activities. The fees are used to pay advisor stipends and supplies.
Pellegrino said that 489 students are participating in clubs and activities this year- an estimated reduction of 25-30% from previous years.
“What we have done for FY22 is we increased the student activity line item by $39,000 to make up for the difference using these numbers of students participating based on what we would need to fund the student activity advisor fees and what we anticipate in receiving for fees from students,” she said.
Changes in ways fees will be charged
Going forward, students will only pay the activities fee once they commit to participating in an activity.
Committee member Paul Butka, who was part of the original approval, said there were a lot of conversations surrounding the topic at the time. He referenced freshmen orientation and graduation—activities that most students participate in and cost money to plan.
“The thought was the vast majority of students every year would in fact participate in some student activity,” he said.
“Why do we charge students to play a sport or to be in a band or to participate in a school program,” Committee member Dan Kolenda asked. “These are things we want to encourage our students to do, not discourage them by assessing… a fee.”
Committee member Karen Ares agreed that formulating a plan to phase out student fees is a “great step in the right direction.” She suggested more transparency on how fees, including class dues, are used to lessen parent confusion.
Martineau said how fees are collected at Robert E. Melican Middle School and P. Brent Trottier Middle School will also be examined.
The District is working with ARHS to identify students eligible for a refund if they paid the fee but have not participated in activities.
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