Treasure Valley parents could save more than $1 million in classroom fees this fall that they typically would shell out for their students to take art, band, photography science and other classes.
Even though there aren’t fees in elementary schools, parents at many schools won’t be asked to contribute a couple of boxes of facial tissue or other items for the common classroom supply.
The change grows out of a Fourth District Court ruling in 2015 that class fees were unconstitutional because they interfered with providing a general, thorough and free education as guaranteed by the Idaho Constitution.
The lawsuit was brought in 2012 by Russell Joki, who was elected to the West Ada School Board in 2015 and resigned in April. While the ruling blocked West Ada specifically from charging fees, school districts elsewhere in the Valley are following the ruling, figuring that their fees will not withstand a court challenge, either.
Class fees were seen as a barrier to students who wanted to take classes and couldn’t afford them. Even if the district has a system to pay for students who can’t afford the fees, no one was sure how many students never bothered to sign up for the class because the fees turned them away.
Smaller school districts are now trying to figure out how to cover the fees that went for supplies and materials. Parma School District says it will push its estimated $15,000 in lost fee revenue onto its supplemental levy, paid by a tax on property owners.
At Melba School District, Superintendent Andy Grover said the $8,800 will have to come out of the district reserve funds, because the district doesn’t have a supplemental levy.
Middleton School District, facing a $40,000 loss in fee revenue, isn’t sure it can make up all the difference and that could affect some classes, said Superintendent Rich Bauscher. Middleton School District has a $20 million budget. About $17 million goes to salary and benefits. The $40,000 will have to come out of the remaining $3 million that covers school operations, he said.
Even if the district paid for a student who couldn’t afford the fee, no one was sure how many students never bothered to sign up for the class because the fees discouraged their interest.
Teachers at Middleton High School already know they could face fewer dollars for supplies.
“It’s a moving target,” said Mike Williams, Middleton High principal.
Students in Katy Belanger’s sculpture and ceramics class had paid $20 for clay and other materials. Without money for supplies, she said, her class could go from “art projects to art history.”
“I’m concerned,” she said. Students do “better with project-based learning.”
If the district can’t come through with the money to make up lost fees for the Middleton Marching Band, the 51 students would probably have to make up the difference with fund-raisers, said Garrett Romero, the band teacher. Students pay a $75 fee for the band plus a $25 dry-cleaning fee. The band has travel and other expenses. “I’m not sure we will have enough to cover the cost of what we need,” Romero said.
In its elementary schools, Boise School District now has a uniform list of materials for each grade for 2016-2017 on its website. Students will be asked to bring such items as pencils, erasers, paper or a binder — but only for themselves, nothing for the classroom as a whole. To help make up the difference in materials students once brought for the entire class, the district has increased spending on supplies by $3 per student.
In West Ada, the original projection for lost student fees was $900,000. A closer look put the loss at about $600,000.
The West Ada high schools collected fees 43,000 times in a year, because many students take more than one fee-based class. In middle schools the number was about 10,000. The district says it can cover all the fees without a reduction in class offerings.
Both Boise and West Ada will make up the fees by tapping operational money it will get from the state.
What could districts pay to cover lost fees next year?
Notes: Nampa School District does not charge course fees. Kuna has paid class fees through a levy that ends this school year. *Parma figure is an estimate.