Boyertown School Board cuts ‘pay-to-play’ fee in half

BOYERTOWN >> As the result of a 6-3 vote Tuesday, it is now less expensive to participate in extracurricular activities in the Boyertown Area School District.

After devoting more debate to the topic than to a $118 million budget that will raise property taxes by 5.4 percent, the board voted to reduce the activity fee, which was raised last year to $200 per student, with a $400 per-family cap.

The new fee, which applies to those who participate in music programs as well as athletics, will go back to $100 per student and a family cap of $300.

Voting against the fee reduction were board members Clay Breece, Ruth Dierolf and Christine Neiman.


The vote and discussion came at a Tuesday night meeting packed with major issues including the approval of a decision to demolish Memorial Stadium and build a new one; extend the interim superintendent’s contract; approve a one-year $1.2 million teacher contract; and preserve the expiring per capita tax.

But it was the subject of the activity fee reduction that garnered the most discussion.

“Where will $100,000 come from? I can’t understand why anyone would cut it,” said Dierolf.

“We’re buying Under Armour socks, getting laundry done, paying insurance. Soon enough we’ll be paying students to play,” she said.

But board member Brandon Foose, who cited his opposition to the activity fee on his campaign website in November, said doubling the fee last year “was a mistake.”

“It was a mistake when it was instituted and it was a mistake when it was raised,” said Foose. “We must find ways to generate revenue that do not create barriers to kids getting involved.”

Dierolf noted that many parents pay much higher fees for their children to play in youth sports leagues not affiliated with the school.

Which is exactly the point, replied Foose.

“Youth sports is becoming a multi-billion-dollar industry and for those who are priced out, middle school and high school becomes the first place they can afford to participate,” he said, adding, “When students connect with their school and activities, they are less likely to have animosity toward that institution. Activities help develop the whole student and the community benefits from us having well-rounded students.”

“If I thought for one moment that $100 was keeping anyone from participating in an activity I would change my vote,” said Dierolf.

Breece argued that nationally, student participation in activities are dropping, citing information from the National Center for Education Statistics.

Information from that same source indicates that the single most consistent factor in determining participation in extra curricular activities is household income, with data showing students from low socioeconomic status “participated less than did their high SES classmates. This participation gap is a cause for concern, especially if extracurricular activities can be a means of bringing at-risk students more fully into the school community, thereby increasing their chances of school success.”

Breece said the causes of dwindling participation are multiple, including increased attachment to technology and households where both parents work.

He said if the board truly wants an accurate picture of whether participation in Boyertown is on the rise or falling — and why — it should undertake a survey of the students.

As for lowering the fee, “this is more of a political payback, an inside joke with a pinch of contempt for the public. It’s fake virtue. This is political payback to keep a campaign promise. Let’s cut the comedy and be transparent to the public. Where is this money coming from?” Breece said.

School Board Vice President Steve Elsier said he was “not a fan of doubling the fee last year” and noted that if the shortfall in funds is too severe, “we can always raise it again next year.”

School Board President Donna Usavage said Boyertown’s participation fee was “the highest of the surrounding districts that charge a fee.”

“Every parent I have spoken with says they don’t like it. They don’t want it, they never wanted it and they never have since 2011,” said board member Rod Boyer.