Friday, September 26, 2008

Careful of Contracts

By Nichole Giles Last spring, my kids participated in an extracurricular program that required an enormous amount of dedication (including giving up their spring break for rehearsals) and quite a bit of tuition. They loved the program, and I—as a mother—loved that they were so dedicated and worked so hard for the end performance.

The people who ran the program very obviously loved the kids, and made sure all their hard work was gratifying in the end. Each participant came away having grown exponentially. And since I’d had children in the program for two previous years, I jumped at the chance to save a (supposedly) much coveted spot in the same program for this year. Unfortunately, the people in charge have moved the sign up deadline earlier each year, until this time they asked us to pay a non-refundable deposit and sign a contract of intent in April, even though the fall semester didn’t start until September.

At the time, we were riding on the performance highs, and my children were sure they wanted to continue into the next year. But a lot can change in five months.

This August, my daughter started junior high and all the different classes—and the consequent homework—had her feeling overwhelmed. She expressed to me that the idea of continuing in a program that requires so much of her was more than she could handle. So, I approached the program producer and informed her that my daughter was giving up her spot.

Now, a little background. I’ve always been a huge advocate for this program. Five or six families have enrolled their children (all more than one child) on my recommendation. I was even the parent volunteer coordinator for last year’s production. When other parents have complained about the amount of time and dedication required of these kids, I have made a point of reminding them how much our kids are learning about life by participating.

But I’m not one of those parents who will force her children to do something they don’t want to do, or that requires more than they are able to give. Which is what I told the producer. (Also, I was fine with forfeiting my non-refundable deposit.)

And I was floored when she informed me that in order to pull my daughter, I’d be required to pay a withdrawl fee equal to the amount of tuition costs for the entire semester. “Excuse me?” I said. Because frankly, I didn’t remember signing anything other than a little sheet of paper requesting a spot for the 2008-2009 year. And also, because the year hadn’t started yet, and they would have had plenty of time to pull from that long, long waiting list they’ve always bragged about in order to fill her spot.

“Well,” she said. “If you can fill her spot before rehearsals start, you won’t have to pay the extra fee.”
Of course, I argued. What happened to that oh-so-long list that was the reason we all signed our children’s lives away last APRIL?

Apparently it’s long gone. Interesting.

But, because I’m stubborn, I refused to pay the fee and told my daughter to buck up and deal with it until December, at which point my supposed “contract” would be void.


The third week of rehearsal, the very same producer called me at home, carelessly—and dare I even say cheerfully?—informing me that they need me to sign yet another contract because…they can’t find mine. Hmm. So, once again I argued. This time, I refused to sign another contract, while she insisted they DO have my “contract” of intent—but not a contract of continuance. We bickered back and forth for twenty minutes, me refusing to sign anything that will bind me to pay or my children to work, and she insisting that I am required to sign a new contract in order for my kids to continue, but if they don’t, I owe the fee. In the end, she sent me copies of all the contracts—including the one I supposedly signed in April (because those supposed contracts conveniently didn’t have carbon copies for the parents) and I am supposed to get back with her by next rehearsal.

Now, here’s the thing. This is a city run program, not a private one. I write my kid’s tuition checks to the city, not the program. And had I realized any of this before I sent my children to three rehearsals, I wouldn’t really have a problem because the original paper isn’t a contract. But now that’s irrelevant. I’m refusing to sign the other, much more binding and complicated contract—because this is a children’s program, not a Broadway production. Here’s the problem. Do I now tell all my children that even though they’ve attended three weeks worth of rehearsals, we’re quitting? Or do I plan on having them finish the semester, knowing that the producer might kick them all out because I won’t sign their lives—and my money—away? I don’t like that contract.

I feel like I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place. I can no longer pull just one of my kids out. It’s all or nothing now. And the worst of it is, part of the reason I refuse to sign that stupid contract is because they tried to bully me into it. I’ve always signed it before, just never five months in advance, and never worrying that my kids would be exhausted before the program even started.

I haven’t figured out the solution yet. I suppose I’ll have to have another chat with the producer this week. I hope we can work out a compromise with the contract, because I’m not out to burn the program. I’m just playing the mother’s part, and attempting to do what’s best for my daughter. It’s really too bad the producer doesn’t seem the least bit concerned about that. I used to believe they actually cared about the welfare of these kids.

The bottom line is, whether you’re signing a business paper, an intent to start Karate, soccer, or some other activity—heck, even a note to the teacher—make sure you not only read and understand every line, but that you keep a copy of what you signed. You never know when someone you like is going to turn into a bully.

1 comment:

Keith Fisher said...

sounds like an organization serving only it's self.

Hang in there kid. don't give up the ship