Education | Learning With Less

Learning With Less: Schools Try Fees To Balance Budgets

OPB | March 23, 2012 10:03 a.m. | Updated: Aug. 29, 2012 6:04 a.m. | Portland, OR

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As families pack up for Spring Break this weekend, are kids taking their homework? How about a basketball? Or trumpet? Sports and bands are part of school, and part of school budgets.

OPB’s “Learning With Less” series has tracked the effect of budget cuts this year. And Rob Manning reports on two Portland-area districts that are charging fees for sports and activities.

 

David Douglas High School sent a boys basketball team to the state tournament for the first time in years this month. It was broadcast over the web.

Clackamas High School percussionist Max Jette.

Rob Manning / OPB

Meanwhile, there’s a group at Clackamas High School that’s gearing up for a first-in-a-long-time state competition of a different kind. The school’s band has earned scores high enough to reach the state competition, but it still has to clear a hurdle or two before the students get to go.  

“Just the band students are very excited and focused in. Like, we had a guest conductor come in and help us out, give us a few tips so we’re right on track, I think, to make it,” percussionist Max Jette says.

Jette says he didn’t realize band cost $25, until the principal told him this week.

Both the David Douglas and North Clackamas school districts expanded their use of fees to raise revenue this school year.

“Yeah, I’d never heard about,” Jette says of the fee. “I was like, ‘Oh, I didn’t know there was one.’ And he said ‘Yeah, your parents probably paid for it.’ So it was news to me.”

Jette told OPB reporter Rob Manning that he didn’t think other band members were concerned or worried about the fee. 

OPB’s “Learning with Less” series has tracked a handful of educators and students since September. Clackamas High principal Matt Utterback is one of them.

Rob Manning / OPB
Lon Morast

Like other principals in Oregon, Utterback lost many teachers this year. Classes grew. Course offerings shrank. And the district began charging activity fees to offset the extra pay given to band and choir directors.

“There’s a lot of extra commitment time outside of the classroom. And so those teachers receive a stipend on top of their salary,” Utterback says. “Depending upon the program, the $25 fee ends up covering maybe half to a third of the stipend.”
 
So the fee doesn’t help pay for an instrument, though schools with band programs, like Clackamas, often have some loaners.
 
Utterback says about one-quarter of band students haven’t paid the fee, but they’re still able to participate. Perhaps for that reason, he hasn’t seen the fee stop anyone.
 
The Oregon School Activities’ Association doesn’t have participation data yet for this year. But last year, statewide participation in athletics and activities fell after years of growth.

“We had a great year, and it was so fun to be there,” says Lon Morast, one of the coaches of the David Douglas basketball squad that placed 6th in the state. OPB has been following him this year, too.

“Some people said they’d never seen that many students at a game, at a state tournament game,” Morast says, crediting seniors for the team’s surprising success.

“You’ve known these kids, a lot of them since they were in 4th grade, coming to our camps. It’s like they’re your family. It’s hard to see them leave,” he says.

Arashi Young / OPB

Morast also teaches Physical Education at two district middle schools. David Douglas still has interscholastic sports in middle school. But Morast worries about the next generation of athletes. His concern? The fee, which was raised this year, to $75.

“They’re always shooting, they’re always playing,” Morast says. “But I’d like to see them play on a team. And I talk to some of the kids, and they say ‘I’d like to, but my mom can’t afford it,’ or ‘My dad can’t afford it.’”

Morast says he’s hoping a new free sports program this spring will catch on.

Back at Clackamas High, band director Jeff Betts sees middle school students as key to his future success as well.

“We were able, this year, to move into an everyday band class for beginners, which is seeing huge leaps in success for them. We had a program formerly that met a couple days a week,” Betts says.

Arashi Young / OPB

Like Morast at David Douglas, the Clackamas band director is concerned about middle school. He says the new schedule that helped his band program is at risk. He says the schedule may change to address another budget challenge: finding time for teachers to plan their lessons.

Officials at David Douglas and North Clackamas say there aren’t immediate plans to increase fees next year.

High school sports programs waive fees for low-income kids. But the North Clackamas activity fee and the David Douglas middle school sports fee don’t have those exceptions. Clackamas principal Matt Utterback says he’d like to see that change at his school.

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