Better financial days allow school district to make positive change

By: April Lehmbeck | Advertiser Times | Published May 8, 2013

HARPER WOODS — There are signs that things have taken a turn for the better when it comes to school finances in Harper Woods.

A couple of those signs came up during the April 30 school board meeting.

The board was able to approve a recommendation to distribute no layoff notices and agree to waive the pay-for-participation fees for next year.

Like many districts, Harper Woods has had to issue layoff notices to teachers in recent years by a specific date, due to budget constraints. Many districts end up recalling teachers after the budget is approved in the summer or when more information comes in about resignations and retirements.

Harper Woods, however, has discovered that they won’t need to issue those notices this year. Actually, the news might end up even better than that.

“You’ve worked hard to keep class sizes below, in most cases, contractual obligation,” Superintendent Todd Biederwolf told the school board. “Your goal is to reduce class sizes, if possible.

“Hopefully, we may be able to make some future inroads to reduce class sizes,” he said, adding that they are hoping they’ll be able to add some teachers for next year.

This isn’t just a sign of positive fiscal movement in the district; it is also good for morale in the district, Biederwolf said.

“This just represents an investment and an extension of that effort to keep that high morale,” board President Brian Selburn said.

The second action they took that represents the district’s positive financial stance was the approval to waive pay-for-participation fees again for next year.

In the past, due to dwindling financial resources, parents were asked to pay a fee if their child wanted to participate in a sport or activity. However, the district has come to realize that pay-to-participate fees, which many districts considered or started charging a few years ago, can cause a hardship for some families — especially if they have multiple children participating or a child who participates in multiple sports and activities.

“That could add up to some pretty significant out-of-pocket expenses,” Biederwolf said.

The district initiated it a few years ago, but they have waived it previously.

“This is a recommendation and a vote to suspend that for yet another year,” Selburn explained.

“I think pay-to-participate is probably counterproductive,” Selburn said. “It doesn’t generate that much revenue and it also (can) lead to the loss of students. I think this is a great recommendation.”

Board Treasurer Jill Quarker is a vocal proponent of not charging pay-to-participate fees for athletics and activities. Quarker was the board member who asked for the issue to be place on the agenda last fall.

“At 70 percent free and reduced lunch, I think it’s a great idea,” Quarker said, referring to the percentage of the district’s students who qualify for free or reduced lunches. “It’s great that we would offer them these opportunities without them having to pay out of pocket.”

Instead of waiving the pay-for-participation fees year after year, the school board talked about possibly changing the policy on a more permanent basis.

“Maybe it’s time to just revise our policy,” board Vice President David Kien said. “It was done by the board with the best of intentions. I agree it has negative consequences, as well.”