How fair is ‘Fair Share’?

I’m glad to know that the ISD 88 formula for cooperative athletics (generally Cathedral and MVL students playing on NUHS teams), called a “Fair Share” agreement, is getting some additional press and discussion. From the outset, I have wondered just how “fair” this procedure is.

Full disclosure: I have a son who attends MVL. He has played for two years on the New Ulm Public High School tennis team. We are presently weighing a decision about whether he will play this season the cost may be too great to justify his participation.

The “fair share” fee is based on a formula which divides the actual expenses for the sport (coaching salaries, equipment, busing etc.) by the total number of participants. Since each player, regardless of school, pays a participation fee (of about $175), this is subtracted and the remaining dollar amount is billed to the private, cooperative schools on a per participant basis. Even though it may actually cost about $625 for a public school tennis player to play, the public school budget assumes the $450 extra cost per public school player. There is no extra charge to public school players or their parents.

Here are the key questions:

How are public schools funded? Answer: By the taxpaying public. I am a member of that taxpaying public. Public schools are funded by pooling the aggregate financial resources of a community. I am a member of this community with a share in its responsibilities, rights and privileges.

Besides participation fees, do public school parents pay any additional fees to have their children attend school or participate in any extra-curricular activity? Answer: Not to my knowledge. This question is critical in the debate about the fairness of the “fair share” agreement.

Why are private school participants singled out to pay the extra fees? Answer: Because the public school administration incurs costs for administering a program that is run by the public school. In addition, some coop students from the private schools from outside ISD 88 their parents do not support the tax base for New Ulm’s public school system. Fair enough. I am not arguing that there may not be some (nominal) administrative fee charged to the cooperative schools. I am arguing that the present formula represents an exorbitant and essentially “unfair” charge, especially given the fact that private school parents pay taxes to support public education.

If you were a parent of a tennis player from a private school who participated in a sport alongside other tennis players from the public school on the same team, would you appreciate paying at least twice (more likely three times) as much as the others? How can this not be perceived as an extra “tax,” and a significant one at that?

It will be argued that ISD 88 is not charging individual players or their parents, it is charging the schools. That may be true, but the private schools, whose resources are very tight, do not have funding budgeted to pay these extra fees. They pass most of this cost along to the parents who desire to have their children participate in a cooperative sport. It will also be argued that cooperative sports among other school districts exchange funds. Yes, but this is an “apples and oranges” argument since public school districts are merely reimbursing the coffers of other public school districts precisely because their budgets are funded by the taxpaying public, not private donations.

What has the “fair share” proposal done? It has, unfortunately, jeopardized what was a very fine initiative between New Ulm Public High School, Cathedral and MVL in sports which could not be offered easily by an individual school. It will undoubtedly reduce participation levels, which, in turn, will significantly reduce any anticipated revenue. It may, in the end, actually produce a net loss for the public school athletic budget. Program costs are essentially the same whether 12 players play tennis or 20 players play, but the per player cost is much greater with fewer participants.

Why threaten what is a good thing by an unyielding, rigorous policy that could very well backfire?

There is more to say, but I think you get the picture. The present “fair share” formula is a bad idea. I would kindly ask the school board to rethink the policy to reflect a more equitable arrangement.

Incidentally, none of the above applies to a very robust cooperative venture: boys and girls soccer, which had almost 80 participants on both JV and Varsity teams in 2012. Why? Because there is no budget impact for the host public school. The New Ulm Soccer Boosters funds the entire program with participation fees and fundraising programs. Whether that is fair or not is another question.

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