Reduced to its most basic premise, the idea of public schooling is to produce a learned citizenry by providing a formal education to each child in our country, no matter his or her station in life. Thomas Jefferson, himself an educated man of privilege, understood that our new nation could not succeed in the way the founders envisioned if we continued to provide education only to the elite as was the tradition in Europe.

Over time, we realized that education was so important simple access was not enough, and we made education compulsory for each child, in Illinois, calling for a free public education to be provided through the 12th grade via our state constitution.

The form that this free public education takes is in part mandated by the state, but with room for decisions by local school boards to reflect the values of individual communities.

Taxpayers supporting the school have a voice at the polls. In April, voters of District 208 were given a choice between raising their taxes to continue the current, exceptional opportunities offered at RB, and the severe curtailing of programming both during and after school to allow for cuts in staffing and other costs.

Lists of proposed cuts were well publicized before voting took place. Voters overwhelmingly sent the message that the items on the chopping block were not worth the price tag attached.

The school board is now considering funding some of these activities through pay-to-participate fees. Under a pay-to-participate system, opportunities are no longer equal. Some families will be able to afford to participate. Others will not.

To deny a student the opportunity to participate in an activity put on by a public school for no reason other than his or her ability to pay, is contrary to the basic idea of public schooling. While this is fine in a private setting, it is unacceptable in a public school.

This community is fortunate to be situated in a region where opportunities abound outside of school. Families who can afford to pay for activities for their children have no lack of activities to choose from.

There are plenty of travel sports teams, music and theater groups, recreation department programs and volunteer opportunities for families to consider in the Chicago area. Cutting activities at school does not deprive those who can afford it from a wide range of experiences.

What it does do, is avoid creating a dichotomy of “haves” and “have nots” inside of the school. The RB community has impressed many with its egalitarian culture. Implementing a system of pay-to-participate activities at this school will most definitely erode that culture as those who can afford to pay do so, and those who cannot are banished to the sidelines. Pay-to-participate fees foster the same elitism inside the school that Jefferson was trying to replace with the idea of public schooling in the first place.

It is important to remember that RB is a public school. As such, the school board needs to take its lead from the public. If the public doesn’t feel that extracurriculars are worth providing with funding from taxes, then it is not the school board’s place to provide them.

If the board disagrees with public sentiment, then the board’s job is to educate the entire community as to why these things are important enough to fund, and why the funding needs to come from the public, and then try again to get a referendum passed.

Lisa Aulerich-Marciniak
Riverside