Havre de Grace business offers to cover local high school students' drama fees

Harford Property Services encourages other businesses to help with student drama fees

A Havre de Grace business, Harford Property Services, has pledged financial support for Havre de Grace High School students who must pay a $100 activity fee to participate in school drama productions.

"We wanted to start the trend of businesses getting involved and stepping up to invest in their communities," Johnathan Grimmel, who is in charge of community relations for the company, said Wednesday.

Harford Property Services manages homeowners' associations and apartment communities in and around Cecil and Harford counties. It has a tradition of community involvement, and the company president, J.D. Russell, has two young children and lives within the HHS attendance area, according to Grimmel.

"Our students and their families should not be burdened with fees in order to gain the benefit of participating in extra-curricular activities," Russell said in a statement. "For many families with two or more school-age children, each participating in multiple programs through the school year, the financial weight is too heavy."

The $100 fee was enacted by the Harford County Board of Education for the 2016-2017 school year, which begins Aug. 25.

The board approved the fee, which would be paid by high school students participating in drama productions, in June as part of a slew of measures to reconcile expenses and revenues in the school system's $438.9 million operating budget for fiscal 2017.

The budget took effect when the fiscal year began July 1. The board also approved doubling, from $50 to $100, the pay-to-play fee charged to students taking part in interscholastic sports. Student athletes pay the fee for up to two seasons.

The drama fee took effect despite an outcry from drama students, their parents, teachers and community supporters, and a motion by board member Al Williamson to rescind the fee.

The motion failed on a 5-3 vote June 27, the same day more than 50 people pleaded with the school board to cancel the fee.

Harford Property Services has since stepped in for Havre de Grace High students, and the company president is encouraging other Harford County businesses to do the same for students in their communities.

"As a local business we want to see our youth get the most out of their high school experience," Russell stated.

Grimmel said company officials have been working with faculty and the drama club at HHS. He said the school will provide a list of participating students and the total amount of fees being charged.

The company will then write a check from its Business Community Reinvestment Account, Grimmel said.

"We set aside about 10 percent of our profits to invest back in the community," he explained.

Harford schools officials were not aware, as of Wednesday afternoon, of the company's offer of support, so they could not comment, HCPS Manager of Communications Jillian Lader stated in an email.

Grimmel reiterated the call for other local businesses to step up and provide financial support for students.

"It helps to really invigorate the local economy, and helps make it easier for local families especially when it comes to something like this, with the pay-to-play fees," he said.

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