Membership in a student group that works to curb drunk driving and other destructive behavior has fallen from 120 to 32 since the district instituted a $40 club fee.
At Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting, Julie Soissen asked the board to waive the club fee for members of Students Against Destructive Decisions.
SADD uses positive peer pressure and other tools to deal with the issues of underage drinking, other drug use, risky and impaired driving, and other destructive decisions.
“We are fully aware of the school district’s financial crisis. Schools are struggling, no doubt. So are families. Part of the decrease we’ve seen in SADD comes from students having to choose between paying to participate in athletics and paying to participate in clubs,” Soissen told the board.
She said the result has been a large reduction in membership and, she said, an increase in drug and alcohol use among students.
Soissen told the board that the group was self-sufficient, operating on money raised at events. She also questioned why students who work to better the community should have to pay to perform their service.
“An outside group would be reimbursed for their efforts. It seems like flawed logic that students should have to pay to service the community,” said Soissen, noting that SADD provides more than 250 hours of volunteer service.
She noted that some groups at the school do not require club fees.
Superintendent Scot Graden noted that the district does provide a staff member who works as student coordinator. The coordinating position was reduced to a half-time position. The five student groups that don’t require club fees are co-curricular groups like FFA, DECA, and Link Crew, Graden said.
Trustee David Zimmer said he was part of a committee that looked at club fees and pay-to-play fees. The group surveyed other districts and found that Saline paid teachers more to lead student groups than most districts, he said.
“There was a concern among parents that participation might drop off as fees rose. I’d like to see if participation has dropped off in other organizations. If it has, then it is time to revisit the issue,” Zimmer said.
Trustee David Holden said he’s seen students be forced to choose between extracurricular activities because of increased costs.
“The burden has been placed on parents who they have been under economic duress like most of us. I will be an advocate for rebalancing the relationship to get parents relief from pay-to-participate fees, endless fundraisers and parking fees,” Holden said.
Board President Lisa Slawson asked if the CARES millage or Foundation for Saline Area Schools mini-grants could help with the costs. Graden said he thought the CARES millage might be a tool that could be used to help SADD.
Shannon Rozell, a member of Saline Parents and Community Together, urged the board to drop the fee.
“Youth learn best from youth,” Rozell said. “Just as you wouldn’t charge someone to come in and fix your alarm system, you shouldn’t charge kids to be members of SADD.”
She suggested that the district create a new tier of “volunteer-oriented clubs” where students wouldn’t be required to pay a membership.
Deb Heilman, also a member of PACT, said SADD helped her oldest daughter deal with some trouble as a sophomore and also asked the board to waive the fee.
Graden will review the issue and could have a recommendation for the board by the first meeting in June.