Archive for Sunday, August 6, 2006

School fees harder for some to pay

Bus, textbooks, activities add up for families with multiple students

August 6, 2006


For Lori Nation, the mother of four students in Lawrence public schools, the start of the new school year produces sticker shock.

Bus, textbook and activity fees set the family back about $1,000.

"The fees are just getting out of control," Nation said. She and her husband, she said, are "still paying off last year's fees."

Like most school districts in Kansas, Lawrence charges fees.

It's allowed by no less an authority than the Kansas Constitution.

The same provision that requires the Legislature to adequately fund education also prohibits tuition to public schools, except for fees provided by law. Over the years, lawmakers have allowed school districts to charge fees for various costs.

"Fees are not unusual at all," said Kansas Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis.

But that leaves some parents wondering about the old notion of free public education.

Fees vary

In Lawrence, the textbook fee is $72 per year for each student, except kindergartners, who pay $36. Participation fees for sports and other extracurricular activities are $50 per student, and bus fees are $240 per year. There are fee waivers for students who qualify for free or reduced lunch.

The Eudora school district charges no fees.

"We work hard at not charging fees," said Eudora's business officer Peg Buchanan. "The board has felt that it is a student's right to a free public education."

In the Baldwin school district, the textbook fee is $30 for kindergartners, $40 for grades first through fifth and $50 for grades sixth through 12th. The activity fee is $30 per sport per student, and busing is free.

Both Eudora and Baldwin are similarly sized districts, with approximately 1,300 students each, but they are much smaller than Lawrence's system, which has nearly 10,000 students.

Multiple student discount

In the Topeka school district, which has nearly 13,000 students, textbook rentals are $30 for kindergartners, $80 for grades first through fifth, $70 for middle-school students and $75 for high school. There are reduced prices for low-income students.

Bus service costs $300 per student annually, but it falls to $200 per student if a family has multiple students going to the same school.

Nation, the mother of four, would like to see a similar discount program established in Lawrence, where she has three children attending Schwegler School.

She said she would drive her children to school, but her job starts at 8 a.m. and classes at Schwegler start at 9 a.m. She doesn't want them walking to school because they would have to cross several busy streets, and dropping them off for the before-school program would be more expensive than the bus.

Bus fees comparable

But Lawrence's bus fees are in line with similar-sized districts, according to a survey taken by Lawrence officials.

For example, Blue Valley, with a student enrollment of about 19,000, charges a $330 fee per student, which is $90 more per year than Lawrence. Blue Valley does offer a 10 percent discount for the second child from the same family and a 20 percent discount for three or more children.

Next Sunday

The cost of sending our children back to school increases each year. Next Sunday, the Journal-World, 6News and World Online will examine those costs affecting parents of kindergartners through high school seniors, including: ¢ A look at what's driving increased public school fees. ¢ Pay-to-play. More and more, parents are having to dip into their pockets so their children can participate in extracurricular activities. ¢ Must-have gadgets are more than just status symbols. Just try doing a school project without a computer, Internet access and a printer.

Olathe, with a student population of about 23,000, charges $195 for the first student in a multiple student household, $155 for the second child and any others are free.

Wichita, with 45,000 students, doesn't transport any child unless they live 2.5 miles or more from school. The exception there is for special education students and those determined to be living in hazardous areas.

Supplemental funding

In Lawrence, as in many districts in Kansas, the assessment of fees has increased in recent years as school funding from the state failed to keep up with increased costs.

"For three years we got nothing, and one year they (the state) pulled back," said Lawrence school board president Sue Morgan.

In 2001, the district approved a $3.2 million package of budget cuts and fee increases. In August 2002, then-Gov. Bill Graves reduced school funding statewide by $17.5 million - a $27 per-student reduction in base state aid.

Rick Gammill, Lawrence school district director of special operations, noted that the district instituted pay-to-ride in 2002 "as an alternative to cutting service to all students who reside less than 2.5 miles from their school."

But last year and this year, the Legislature, under court order and amid improving economic conditions, has approved $755 million more for schools.

The Lawrence district will get a $2.8 million increase in state funding for this coming school year.

But Morgan said that is no windfall, and at this point it will probably not translate into a reduction of fees. Most of the new state dollars are earmarked for specific areas, such as special education and at-risk programs.

"We're looking at keeping salaries competitive, and covering increased costs, and covering things we hedged on last year," she said.

While she said she understands the frustration with fees, she said it helps pay for services, though the fees don't cover the full cost. The district collects about $1 million per year in fees, including pay-to-ride, textbooks, extracurricular and activity charges.

"It would be lovely if we could reach the point where we could roll some of these fees back, but our situation hasn't changed that much from the situation that pushed us to install the fees in the first place," she said.


southerngirl 11 years, 10 months ago

As you all know, we moved to the Memphis area last December. I just accepted a teaching job with the county school district for $12,000 a year more than I was earning in Lawrence. I enrolled my children in school and the only fees I had were for three $7.00 agendas, a $10 locker lock fee for the high school and the first month of school lunches. Two of the three will be taking a bus to school and there is no fee. There are no pay to play fees for extracurriculur activities. And before you ask, all three children were challenged by the curriculum and my special education student received excellent services...where does all of your money go???

kugrad 11 years, 10 months ago

First of all, Marion, you are dead wrong that our students are not very good at the 3 R's, particularly reading and math. I encourage you to take a look at the test results for the NCLB testing from last year (first year 3rd grade was tested BTW) and see what our elementary aged kids are achieving. I am sure the LJW will publish them this fall (it takes the state a long time to determine their cutoffs - which they do after the test).

The school district was spending MILLIONS of dollars per year bussing children who lived close enough to walk to school and/or inside the statutory limit (how far away one needs to live get bussed is set by state law). That became a luxury the district could not afford.

Are the Memphis schools listed in the top 10 districts in the country by any major publications? No, I didn't think so. Lawrence has been rated very highly over and over again in the last several years. It is easy to say negative things about our schools, much harder to back them up with FACTS.

Yes, you pay a textbook fee, but your children are not using textbooks from the 1980's or 1990s. They are using modern texts and have access to superior technology. This makes a difference. There are adequate supplies of leveled reading material so that children can read books very specifically targeted to their instructional level.

Small districts in this state have benefitted from the inequalities in funding over the last decades. They have also benefitted from the ability to pay higher salaries that have helped them attract superior teachers trained here in the Lawrence Schools.

 In my view, there truly was a great deal of waste and inefficiency in the Lawrence system prior to Mr. Weseman becoming the superintendent. As surprising as it may be to those of you who live to post negative things about our schools, he has taken a much more systematic, long-term, approach than his predecessors. There is always room for improvement, but the situtation is much better than in the Azinger days.

The extra curricular activities like football actually generate income! So letting them go would be a bad idea and is quite obviously a political impossibility.

 This board would be well served by more facts about OUR schools, not googled links to the opinions of others about other districts. This information is readily available, but those of you who post only negatives about our schools are quite obviously not interested in doing any actual work to become more informed.

xenophonschild 11 years, 10 months ago

Somday, a Douglas County papershuffler will find a way to charge us a fee . . . for breathing air. It's almost inevitable.

Bubarubu 11 years, 10 months ago

Not to speak for tanzer or anything, but marion, where do any of those links mention Lawrence? How about Kansas? The short answer is that they don't. The fees in the article are specific to Lawrence schools and some schools in the surrouding areas. Say what you want about the state of education in the US generally (although some of the international comparisons are pretty specious), but we're not talking about the US generally. Both the news article and tanzer's comment were narrowly restricted to a specific group of students, so at least make a response that is relevant. Try again.

MWIV 11 years, 10 months ago

Need help in paying your school fees? Call Cingular, Sprint or Verizon. My money says that most all of these folks have a cell phone! The cell companies (and oil companies) are the ones making the money. Change your lifestyle and maybe people can afford the things that are really required in life, like food, clothing and shelter and of course, a "FREE" tax paid public education. And not a high dollar shelter just because someone else has one either.

mom_of_three 11 years, 10 months ago

I hope the next article published mentions the other fees charged to parents that the other districts don't charge, such as the $50 supplemental enrollment fee, and all the fees for materials needed for classes (workbooks, instructional materials, technology materials, etc) And mention when the fees increased several years ago, the fees tripled.

MWIV 11 years, 10 months ago

macon47, I agree! If we were charged the same amount per gallon for our home water that we seem to think is okay to pay for what we get in a plastic bottle, it would make the price of gas look pretty cheap.

Richard Heckler 11 years, 10 months ago

The quality Lawrence Public schools was one reason we relocated to Lawrence,Kansas. While we do home school you never know when things could change. It was also brought to our attention that the school district was willing to work with homeschoolers by allowing them to attend classes. It's too bad Lawence school cannot be funded the same as rural districts.

Excellent school districts are one big item new employers consider if relocation is on their agenda. USD 497 is definitely a plus for economic development and is a wise investment no matter what the funding source. Yes it would be good if fees could be reduced across the board.

A well educated work force and public schools are two very important factors for high salaried new employment opportunities. Inflated property taxes on the other hand are not equally attractive.

yourworstnightmare 11 years, 10 months ago

This is simple economics, folks.

Education gets more and more expensive each year, and parents want more and more services (extracurriculars, languages, field trips, athletics, etc.). State and local funding has not kept pace with increasing cost. So, two things can happen: lower the quality of education through cuts; or charge fees to fill the gap.

People moan about the costs of education and also moan about large class sizes and cuts to programs. Can't have it both ways, folks.

MWIV 11 years, 10 months ago

I don't see anyone complaining about what they paid last month for their cell phone, cable/sat TV, internet connection, etc. Cut the cell phone bill out and one would be surprised what one can pay for. Why should school fees get the hit?

Jay_Z 11 years, 10 months ago

And I thought public education was "free".

tell_it_like_it_is 11 years, 10 months ago

MWIV...Geez maybe its because we are already paying stupidly high property tax, kansas state tax and sales tax to support these schools. Ya think?

MWIV 11 years, 10 months ago

Hey guys! You want stuff, you gotta pay for it. The school districts are no different that any other public servant. They just waste too much. I guess you all think that what you pay every month for your cable, cells and internet is okay though, huh?

tell_it_like_it_is 11 years, 10 months ago

I dunno enforcer. He/She seems to have a real problem with modern things.

MWIV 11 years, 10 months ago

Boy, you missed the point, enforcer. Get your priorities right. If you want to complain about taxes and fees, and I am on your skateboard, go for it. Just don't compalain about not having enough in the budget to pay some darn fees that are far and away less than what these same people spend on cells, etc. You don't want to know just how many cells phones I have in my company that, yes, I do own. Pay attention!

tell_it_like_it_is 11 years, 10 months ago

Hey guys! You want stuff, you gotta pay for it.

GET A CLUE MWIV..we already pay for them. Its called property tax, sales tax, kansas state income tax and god only knows how many other little hidden taxs.

Jay_Z 11 years, 10 months ago

Exactly, the point is that people pay taxes for education, yet they still pay have to pay all of these "fees". The fees are basically another tax. I can understand some fees, but from reading the article and other comments, the totals that have to be shelled out to send your kid to school seem a bit much, especially considering taxes are supposed to pay for the public education.

MWIV 11 years, 10 months ago

Then make your position known at the voting booth with the school board. Vote the bums out. My bet is that most of the people compalining on this post tonight don't even vote. Don't vote? Don't complain. The fees are just like the other taxes, I agree, but the only way things change is when those that have the authority to raise taxes are voted out, regardless of political party affiliation. What did I see the other day, maybe about 20% of the people registered voted in the primary. I rest my case on that one. Have a good evening guys.

MWIV 11 years, 10 months ago

So do I, but most people just pay and complain. As the old saying goes, fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. It's hard to practice good citizenship. Preach the "gospel", ops, sorry, to VOTE. See what I mean? We have become so PC in this country, people are afraid to speak up. People complain about who will be on the state school board and most of those complaining don't vote. In this case, if you have kids in school and are being hit with these fees, I would start by attending some of the school board meetings. Make your voice known, run for office. It's a tough job, but somebody has to do it. I'm too old. My kids are grown and gone and the dog's dead. Life is good. Sorry.

MWIV 11 years, 10 months ago

That's okay too, enforcer. Just don't complain. I don't want to be on the school board either. Been there and done that years ago too. Not in this town, I might add. My guess is that you don't have kids. When that happens, if ever, you just might change your mind about the cupcakes (figure of speech only). I hope you really enjoy the rebellion. Sometimes, however, that makes life a little rougher on the rest of us.

MWIV 11 years, 10 months ago

Keep speaking your mind. Keep complaining so others will have to listen. Keep spending time with your family. That is the best part. Keep telling them that you love them and make as much time for them as possible. Keep your family first. When you do have spare time. try to put a committee together to complain to the school board. If it is just one person, they will ignore you. That is why lobbyist get so far. They claim to represent a group. I know it is hard, but just think how much harder it is going to be for your kids if the course doesn't start to change now?

MWIV 11 years, 10 months ago

Enforcer, I think the conservatives would disagree with your take on making your children Republicans. I think they believe it is the purpose of the public school system to teach children about the 3D's. Keep them Dumb, Dependent and Democrat! Take that with a grain of salt now. Don't get the nose our of joint. Meant to be fun.

ctmom 11 years, 10 months ago

I grew up in Lawrence and knew that there were always fees associated with going back to school. When I enrolled our eldest in kindergarten I was quite surprised to find they did not charge us anything to send her to school, I even asked them twice if there were any fees. We have since moved to Utah and thought for sure there would be fees, due to the much lower property taxes here. But again, no fees. We do have to supply our daughter with crayons, glue sticks, and a folder. There should not be any fees except for lunch and attending extra-curricular events in public education.

oldgranny 11 years, 10 months ago

We pay higher taxes then almost anyone around. I wish someone would tell me for what. I'm not seeing a very good return on our tax dollar.

Kathleen Christian 11 years, 10 months ago

I bet they don't reduce the fees if the school receives more money. The school will just come up with another expense to use that money for.
Personally, my taxes (and those who do not have children in school but pay taxes) should cover the textbooks my child needs to attend "public" school as well as pay for being transported to school by bus.

Lori Nation 11 years, 10 months ago

after the article printed in sundays paper I had received a call from house repr. barbara ballard (very nice) I told her the school district is blaming state reps. for not providing enough money to usd 497, she was shocked at what we will have to pay this year. It's not that most people here in Lawrence cant but why should we have to pay for education just call eudora their motto is education should come free. We talked to Barbara for about an hour Lawrence has received 2.8 million dollars for school funding WHERE IS THE MONEY GOING!! so maybe if everyone joins with me call your school board call your representatives call your mayor call Randy Weseman start asking questions WHERE IS OUR MONEY GOING FOR OUR KIDS!! there cant be that many special education children in our schools?? SO PLEASE IF YOU HAVE KIDS OR ARE THINKING OF HAVING KIDS EVALUATE WHAT THE COST IS AND HELP TO MAKE A CHANGE THIS IS THE ONLY WAY WE CAN HELP!!!!!


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