Despite its many triumphs, however, the team is facing internal financial troubles, in addition to other conflicts that may threaten its long-term stability.
In the last few years, the Speech and Debate team has had difficulty raising enough money to support itself, and though it has stayed out of debt, it had no remaining funds at the end of the last school year. The team’s funding was recently scaled back due to school-wide budget cuts by the administration. As a result, the team has beenis forced to rely more on annual membership dues in order to remain competitive.
At the start of the school year, membership dues were raised from $800 per person to $900 per person. The money raised through dues goes toward tournament fees, transportation, out-of-town room and board, and paying non-Stuyvesant coaches. “If you can afford to pay the dues, then you’re expected to pay the full amount,” junior and Debate team member Aniqa Tahsin said. “You can also pay in installments with half paid at the beginning of the year, and half toward the end.”
“Paying for the team is really flexible, as long as you do pay it eventually,” junior and Speech team member Nancy Ko said. “Most kids manage to pay it, and those who can’t are usually okay.”
Sheinman made it clear that if a member cannot afford the full tuition, the team assists as much as possible. “If a student wants to join, their ability to pay is not considered at all,” she said. “If they cannot afford the full dues, we always manage to work something out.”
The dues that a student pays do not directly pay for him or her to attend tournaments. Instead, the money is put into a general pool, which is used to pay for the costs of the team as a whole. Varsity members, or the more experienced juniors and seniors, generally attend more tournaments than the novice members. They also attend the tournaments that are more costly, due to their distance or prestige. Novices tend to compete at smaller local tournaments, which are not as expensive. “This means that perhaps only $600 of a novice’s dues are spent on them, while a Varsity member might use $1200,” Sheinman said.
“It’s a trade-off. My dues this year might pay for a senior to go to the national competition, with the expectation that I will go next year, or the year after,” junior and Varsity Speech member Meg Palmer said.
With the increased financial pressure weighing down on the team, Sheinman has been increasing efforts to supplement the funding with donations from other sources. “This year, we asked students to write 10 letters to relatives requesting donations,” Sheinman said. Some donors and corporations offered matching plans, with which they would double other donations. The team also hosts a tournament at Stuyvesant and an annual fundraising dinner. The team does receive some outside funding, from organizations such as the Peter J. Sharpe Foundation, a New-York-based nonprofit organization.
Despite the monetary challenges, the team has yet to cut back on tournament attendance, with many more tournaments coming up, including the widely attended Harvard Invitational in Cambridge, Massachusetts. On Friday, January 27, the team competed in Barkeley College at Emory University. Sheinman praised the tournament hosts for assisting Stuyvesant in paying for the tournaments. “Some tournaments have waived registration fees. No one doesn’t want us to come,” she said. “We have very active alumni, who let team members stay at their homes or dorms for the tournament.”
Though Sheinman acknowledges concerns of the team’s financial stability, she believes that the team will succeed no matter what. “Yes, we’ve had a tight year, and of course we could use more funding, but we continue to be one of the top Speech and Debate teams in the city,” she said.
While Sheinman remains optimistic about the state of the program, some team members have criticized her for her management of the team, such as scheduling the team to compete at overly expensive tournaments that only a few students can afford to attend. Some members claim that Sheinman displays favoritism and have complained about her attitude toward certain team members. Instead of supporting the whole team, Sheinman “focuses on one or two particular students who she thinks are the best,” said one student, who chose to be anonymous. “She works with them during their lunches, and then after school as well.”
Though Sheinman declined to explicitly respond to such accusations, she suggested that all teams have members who complain. She claims that she simply focuses her time on any member who shows devotion to the team. “There are kids who are hard workers, and juggle their time to help out. I see those kids here every day,” she said. “The success of the team is due to their dedication.”
Sheinman feels that the team will emerge unscathed from the problems, financial or otherwise, and will continue to succeed as spectacularly as before. “To me, the most critical concern for the team is participation and dedication. The team is one team and is united,” Sheinman said. “We owe our success to that.”