The public response to an ongoing financial crunch at the Hernando School District should rise above simplistic expectations that somebody else will foot the bill.
It is the unfortunate sentiment reflected by the paltry number of parents willing to pay a modest $15 activity fee for their children's extracurricular activities.
As Times staff writer Danny Valentine reported, just 37 percent of the district's nearly 22,000 students paid the fee. The School Board adopted the charge last summer to stave off more severe proposals, including eliminating middle school and junior varsity sports. Instead, the district approved fees for inter-scholastic athletics and the separate activity fee to finance school clubs and other events.
But unlike the sports teams, which could bench players who failed to pay, the schools had no enforcement method for the activity charge. Sadly, it meant more than 13,000 kids free-loaded on the backs of those who met their obligation.
Certainly a portion of the missing largesse can be attributed to the economy and families' personal finances. The jobless rate in Hernando County is the second highest of Florida's 67 counties. But that doesn't explain everything because the lack of fee payments was not spread evenly across the board. High school participation was particularly poor, with more than three of every four students declining to pay the fee. It means principals need to do a better job of mandating collection or offering incentives and volunteer opportunities to offset the cost.
The fees for the just-concluded school year came as part of a series of difficult decisions to close an $11.5 million shortfall. It resulted in 10 percent cuts to each school, salary reductions via canceled paid days off, layoffs, give-backs of previously approved raises and canceling courtesy bus rides for students who live within 2 miles of their schools. In the coming budget year, another multimillion-dollar deficit looms and principals warn extracurricular activities could go by the wayside if more parents don't contribute.
Combined, families paid just $122,000 in activity fees, an amount equivalent to just 1 percent of last year's budget shortfall. The cost is not exorbitant and extracurricular activities help complete a child's education beyond classroom academics.
Expecting less than 40 percent of the students to finance those extra activities is simply unfair. More families should be willing to pitch in or face the unpleasant consequences of their children losing a fun, highly desirable portion of their public education.