A School District 8 report has found up to 40 per cent of student fees aren’t being paid by families, which is driving expenses up for schools that offer electives.
Trustees requested a review of student fees in June to check they were fair and compliant with the School Act, which states school boards must provide “educational resource materials necessary to participate in the educational program.”
The act also allows schools to charge cost recovery for additional expenses in extracurricular programs, such as instrumental rentals for music classes or sports teams’ transportation costs.
The report, completed by consultant Laurie Rice, found no issues with School District 8’s fees, but principals surveyed said between five and 40 per cent of fees aren’t being paid by families.
The district asks families to pay for classroom supply fees, which at the start of an academic year can include items like agendas and stationary the district buys in bulk. But those fees, as well as the ones for elective classes, are covered 100 per cent by the district if families either can’t pay or decline to.
Fees are also offset for the district by the education ministry’s $60-million Student and Family Affordability Fund, a one-time fund announced last August that pays for meal programs, supplies and activity fees.
Superintendent Trish Smillie said the district doesn’t want financial hardship at home to impact student learning, even if it is for extras like field trip costs.
“Education is a right and as a result, the schools are provided to provide an education free of charge. But it is nice for students to have something over and above what is necessary to just educate and graduate.”
But the report also found that footing the bill for student fees is having consequences.
Principals cited inflation on supply and service costs as a concern, and those at smaller schools said they were concerned about not being able to provide the same learning opportunities as their larger counterparts if fees were being paid out of their budgets.
Smillie said she thinks the report’s conclusions are accurate. School budgets include considerations like transportation needs, but are mostly set by full-time equivalent hours of students in class. Fewer students, therefore, means less money for a school to work with.
“What happens is if you have a smaller group of children in a rural school, it’s those families that are fundraising in a smaller setting and may not have the same opportunity to fundraise and then provide some of those special opportunities for students,” said Smillie.
L.V. Rogers interim principal Tamara Malloff said the lack of school fees is most felt by electives.
Fundraising by parent advisory committees, Malloff said, helps with extracurricular fees. But any courses with consumables, such as food and shop classes, are becoming more costly for schools to maintain. (Malloff added no electives are currently in danger of being dropped from the curriculum.)
Malloff said the high school has a no-questions-asked policy to student needs, and has made some cost-cutting measures including removing locker fees and dropping the price of the outdoor education program ATLAS by $1,000. But she also acknowledged the financial pressures of that approach.
“We want to make sure that every student has an opportunity to think of graduation requirements and that teachers have the opportunity to teach courses, so it is tight.”
Unpaid fees are less of an issue at elementary schools, where there are no electives offered.
Canyon-Lister, with 130 students, is among the smaller schools in the district. Principal Laury Carriere said the school charges $40 annually for supplies that are bought in bulk, which is cheaper for parents than if they were to buy their own.
Fundraising by Canyon-Lister’s PAC subsidizes the cost of school photos and contributes to an annual activity day in June.
“The amount of money that we collect for school fees is just the cost recovery for school supplies anyway, and so we’ve never used any of that for school programming,” said Carriere.
The consultant’s report found no evidence that schools are charging unnecessary fees, or that they are saving surplus fees to be used in following academic years.
It suggested changing the term fees to “cost recovery charges,” but made no other recommendations.
@tyler_harper | firstname.lastname@example.org
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.