JCPS targeting extra fees some schools are charging families - WDRB 41 Louisville News

JCPS targeting extra fees some schools are charging families

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) --  A year after slimming down on back to school supply lists, officials with Jefferson County Public Schools are now exploring the extra fees some schools are charging families.

During a Monday work session with the Jefferson County Board of Education, officials handed out a 20-page analysis of the fees. Out of the district's 155 schools, 65 are charging some sort of fee.  Broken down by level, 43 percent of the district's elementary schools are charging fees, while 83 percent of middle schools and 91 percent of high schools are charging fees.

"We've heard some feedback where parents have felt like they've been nickel & dimed to death" on some of the fees, said Eddie Muns, director of accounting for JCPS. “The fees are somewhat chaotic because every school has adopted them as they have felt was best in their certain circumstance. A lot of schools may charge similar fees but they call them different things."

The fees – classified as core curriculum, elective curriculum, operational, extracurricular sports/activities and other extracurricular charges – vary from school to school and range from $1 to $600. In addition, some schools charge fees for things like lockers, parking or student identification cards, while others do not.  

“There is a lot of inconsistency and that is why we are taking a look at this," said Dewey Hensley, chief academic officer for JCPS. "We are analyzing these fees to give the school board a better idea of what fees schools have decided to charge. My hope is that we can have a clear and common standard in the future to relieve the burden on families.”

Hensley did note that students who qualify for free and reduced price lunch can apply for a fee waiver and do not have to pay any of the fees. No child is excluded for inability to pay, he said.

DOCUMENT |  LIST OF FEES BY JCPS SCHOOL

District officials have spent the past year talking to principals about the fees and why certain fees are being charged, as well as looking for ideas on how to centralize them, Muns said.

He said principals feel "there is a cost for a world class education" and that they are under some budgetary restraints with vending machine supplement money being deleted and the amount of at risk-funding not being adequate to cover their costs.

As WDRB has previously reported, JCPS will no longer provide approximately $366,000 in supplemental vending machine money to its high schools. 

Jim Jury, principal at Louisville Male High School, told WDRB News Wednesday that a lot of schools are "looking for ways to not charge parents these fees."

"It gets to be very expensive," said Jury, who was also the principal at Ballard High School for 12 years. "Some consistency across the district would be nice."

Muns said the fees are subject to review by each school's staff, administration and site-based council and are audited every year. By law, the fees must be used for the stated purpose. For example, money collected for an art class cannot be used on the football field.

JCPS reviews the fees periodically to ensure that fee revenue is being spent for the purpose designated and not accumulated, Muns said.

"We make sure schools are not charging fees and building up a war chest," he said, noting that there have been very few violations.

Student fees for the 2015-16 year will be up for approval at the July 28 school board meeting in order to adhere to state regulations that the board approve all fees, Muns said. 

"The board is required to approve the fees, however all financial matters are under the purview of the (site-based council), so there is kind of a dual authority," he said.

Board members agreed Monday that school fees must be addressed. 

"What we have here is totally incomprehensible," said board chairman David Jones Jr. "It's a list of 600 things that are impossible to explain."

Board member Diane Porter asked how some schools that charge no fees are able to provide services compared to schools that do charge fees.

"The other concern I have is when these fees are due," she said, adding that making parents pay them at one time can be a burden.

Muns said making any changes to the fees for the 2015-16 school year would be difficult.

"We need some input from teachers and (others), it would be difficult to make sweeping changes on the fly," he said, adding that it would also be hard to have a "one size fits all" type approach in a district where no school is the same size.

"One thing we asked (principals) -- could we have a cap of the maximum amount a parent would be expected to pay," Muns said. "They were very leery of that because they felt for any school charging less than the cap, they would raise the fees, almost as though it was an approved fee level."

Some principals also asked why some schools are charging "core content curriculum" fees for English, math, science and social studies classes when "we're (providing a) public education," Muns said.

Hensley said he doesn't think schools should be charging any fees for required courses.

The district currently gives schools $140 per student annually for classroom supplies, or $13.5 million annually, said Cordelia Hardin, chief financial officer for JCPS. She says that is $3.7 million more than the $100 minimum prescribed by state budget rules.

The amount of resources that are actually reaching JCPS classrooms was mentioned in a year-long audit conducted by Kentucky Auditor Adam Edelen and released in May 2014. Edelen also called out JCPS other school systems across the state “identified expensive lists of school and janitorial supplies that are crushing hard-working families.”

“We are asking parents to subsidize their kid's education beyond the taxes that they pay,” Edelen said in July 2014.

Last year, JCPS cut back on the number of school supplies it asked parents to provide. 

This year, the list has been slightly revised and gives schools more flexibility, Hensley said.

Reporter Antoinette Konz can be reached at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.

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