Pay to play is a good thing
There is no potential school budget reduction that isn't controversial in some quarters. But among the many possible savings the Council weighed as it prepared to make its recommendations on the defeated school budget is one that should enjoy broad support. This would not involve taking a painful decision to cut something that in better times one would quickly restore. The imposition of extracurricular activity fees is the right thing to do under all conditions. It is a simple matter of fairness to all students and respect for the taxpayers. Distressingly, this has already been nixed.
Teaneck would not be breaking new ground in taking such a step. Other area districts have reluctantly imposed fees for participation in school sponsored extra-curricular activities as a result of the pressure on school budgets due to the soft economy and the steep reduction in state aid to local districts. This has generally been accompanied by great regret, wailing and gnashing of teeth. In our town, speakers at some of the public meetings following the school budget defeat preemptively warned the Council against considering such a measure, describing the importance of extra-curricular activities, especially inter-scholastic sports, in their lives and asking officials not to recommend any decrease in the taxpayer subsidy for these programs.
While poignant, these pleas should have gone unheeded. One can affirm the importance of school-sponsored extra-curricular activities to the development of character and improvement of our students without concluding that these activities should be paid for by all taxpayers. There is nothing odious about asking those individuals who benefit from a particular extra-curricular program to shoulder the financial burden of paying for it. Unlike academic programs, these activities carry no participation requirements; on the contrary, many students who would like to participate are excluded. Is there a compelling reason other than existing precedent as to why we compel Teaneck taxpayers to foot the bill for exclusive teams that serve only a small subset of Teaneck's youth?
The litany of reasons typically cited for why a robust program of school-sponsored extra-curricular activities is valuable and worthwhile is not a bit diminished by asking our students or their parents to contribute to the cost of sustaining them. Yes, studies seem to show that student-athletes are significantly less likely to abuse drugs and that student-athletes on average carry higher grade point averages than students who are less engaged in extra-curriculars. There is, however, no evidence that this edge evaporates when students or their parents contribute to the cost of running the interscholastic sports program.
Some have a legitimate concern that the introduction of activity fees will limit participation to those who can afford to pay for it. This is hardly an argument that nobody should have to pay to play. Some smaller sum could be left in the budget to cover financial aid for needy students, and of course Teaneck's many teams, clubs, theater troupes and the like would be more than welcome to supplement the funds they contributed themselves toward to the support of their chosen activities through fundraising drives (as many already do).
Strangely, this option has been taken off the table before others that might actually have implications for the quality of instruction in our schools or the health and general welfare of the students. Someone should answer for why that is.