Parents will be paying more to send their children to the Extended Day program at the Watertown Public Schools, but the School Committee hopes its decision will improve the program. The board also changed how fees are assessed for high school athletics and for extracurricular activities.
Extended Day Program
The Extended Day Program, which has before and after school programs and ones over February and April vacations, will increase its fees by 20 percent across the board beginning in the fall of 2018. The last time the fees were increased was in the 2011-12 school year, said Director of Community Education Deb Cornelius.
The proposal also asked for a 2 percent increase every year beginning in the fall of 2019.
With the increase, Cornelius told the School Committee that she hopes to improve the program by attracting higher quality teachers and offering more things like art and other activities on a regular basis.
Right now, many of the teachers are high school students, but Cornelius would like to find instructors with more experience, and have them return to the program years after year.
“I truly believe being able to offer higher pay rates will be able to attract more qualified candidates,” Cornelius said. “I am really hoping to target college students, other (instructional aides), people who are looking for other sources of income that can bring more to our program.”
The the increase could allow Watertown’s Extended Day program to increase pay by up to 15 percent, Cornelius said.
Extended Day offers enrichment programs on day when schools have early release, but she would like to make that more frequent.
“Enrichment activities include sewing, woodworking, and a gross motor skills program,” Cornelius said. “I would like to be able to offer additional art classes, involve art teachers, music – the sky is the limit. We are doing the most we can do with what we have.”
School Committee member and Town Council President Mark Sideris said even with the increase the district’s salaries would not be near the highest in the area. He added that the two percent per year afterward would mean the School Committee would prevent big price hikes down the line.
School Committee Vice Chair Kendra Foley agreed and said she believes the two percent increase will help parents.
“The two percent a year makes sense for folks,” Foley said. “It is both sustainable and consistent for families to know what to expect each year rather than every 10 years having a big bump.”
Another benefit of the increase would be it would allow the Extended Day Program to purchase software that would allow parents to pay for and register for classes online.
“Right now parents can only make payments via check and have to physically hand in registration forms, so it’s pretty archaic,” Cornelius said.
The School Committee voted 7-0 to approve the Extended Day fee increase.
The School Committee changed the way Athletic fees will be charged at Watertown High School, and as a result some families will pay less and some will pay more, depending on how many sports their children play.
The current fee is $320 a year per student, which allows them to play one to three sports. Superintendent Dede Galdston said that parents approached her about lowering the fee for students who only play one sport.
Foley said that she also heard from parents about the fee.
“There were a lot of families who are just doing one sport and didn’t feel like it was fair,” Foley said. “I feel this creates equity and fairness, and continues to encourage students to engage in sports even when trying something new.”
The change would be charging $200 for the first sport a student plays, $175 for the second and no extra fee for the third, said Mary DeLai, Assistant Superintendent for Finance and Operations. There would be a cap of $750 per family.
Watertown first began charging athletic fees in 2010-11 when they were $175. The fee was increased to $320 in 2013-14. The fee brings in around $90,000 and helps pay for the $900,000 athletic budget, DeLai said. She estimates the new fees will bring in about $7,500 less in fees, but if students who did not participate because of the higher fee join a team the amount could be increased.
Discounts will be given for families who might struggle to pay the full fee. Families that qualify for the Federal Free Lunch program will pay $50 for the first sport, $50 for the second sport and none for the third. Those who qualify for Reduced Lunch prices will pay $100 for the first sport, $100 for the second and none for the third.
School Committee member Eileen Hsu-Balzer said she worried that families on the Free or Reduce Lunch program would struggle to pay the $750 family cap, and suggested a lower cap. Foley said that the cap will be $400 for those qualifying for the Reduced Lunch program and $200 for those who qualify for Free Lunches.
The School Committee voted 7-0 to approve the changes to the Athletic Fees.
The School Committee did not change the amount of the fee for extracurricular activities, but did change who must pay it.
The $50 activity fee it was created when athletic fees were instituted. Students who paid the athletic fee did not have to pay the activity fee. The fee will be for the whole year, not per activity, DeLai said.
DeLai said from a budgeting standpoint, having the fees considered together does not work because the athletic and the activity budgets are totally separate. She recommends charging a fee for any extracurricular activity which has a paid advisor.
“The advisor stipend is very different from the coaches from the athletic program,” DeLai said. “Any fees collected will be put into a revolving fund – one for the middle school and one for high school. It will be used to support the extracurricular activities at the school.”
Hsu-Balzer said she wanted to make sure that there are some exceptions.
“A class officer (in student government) has an advisor. I don’t think that if you are elected to a position you should have to pay,” said Hsu-Balzer who also said that the National Merit Program also came to mind as one that should not have a fee.
DeLai said which activities have a fee can be designated in the School Handbook.
The School Committee voted 7-0 to support the changes to the Activity Fee.
See the report on fees for Extended Day, Athletics and Activities by clicking here.