After state demands more equitable fees, Park City School District prepares to comply
As part of the Park City School District’s pledge to improve social equity at its schools, the Park City Board of Education voted in April to remove mandatory and academic-related fees for students.
Around the same time, the Utah State Board of Education performed an audit and found that Utah public schools were collecting excessive fees for extracurricular activities, totaling $71 million in 2017. A second audit by the Office of the Legislative Auditor General followed months later, and it came to a similar conclusion. School fees in Utah are too high, and districts around the state have to change.
Based on a proposed rule from the State Board of Education’s new School Fees Task Force — which started meeting over the summer — all public school districts in Utah would have to implement caps on academic and extra-curricular fees. Boards would also have to present all fees to their communities through a public notice and hold a public meeting on the fees. The fees would be subject to a fee waiver policy. Although the rule is only a recommendation, Todd Hauber, the business administrator for the Park City School District, said the State Board is likely to adopt the policy as it stands.
One of the major changes in the task force’s proposed rule is the new definition of school fees. Under the rule, fees would include anything of monetary value, which could mean a performance uniform or a book that students are required to read over the summer. Academic and school-sponsored extra-curricular activities are included in the definition.
“Even though no one paid the school money for that outfit, if it is required to have the outfit in order to perform, you just created a fee, so that is now subject to the notice and adoption requirement,” Hauber said. “It changes the whole nature of the conversation.”
Teachers, principals and coaches from Ecker Hill Middle School through Park City High School would have to submit information about any fees or required materials to the Park City Board of Education by the spring. Even $5 for students to go on a field trip will need to be reported, Hauber said.
He said the Board is already having conversations with administrators at Park City High School, where the majority of the district’s school fees are in place, to determine what fees or required materials are included in the classes and activities.
There is no timeline in place for Utah school districts to be compliant with the proposed rule, but Hauber said the Park City School District wants to be ready for any outcome. In the proposed rule, the new deadline for fees to be approved by local school boards is April 1, which is two weeks earlier than the Park City Board of Education typically approves the fee schedule.
The Board will need to work with school administrators over the next few months to gather information about existing fees, and then set two new required maximums for school fees.
One will be a maximum amount for each fee associated with every activity or course. The district already has this practice in place, Hauber said. The second one will be an aggregate maximum per student, meaning that the sum of all fees one individual student will pay will never exceed a given amount.
“If you have a student that is a three-sport athlete, we have to figure out, ‘Well, what does that look like?’” he said.
Given how involved Park City students are in different activities, the number might be difficult to set, Hauber said.
The Park City Board of Education will then have to decide whether it will pay for the additional fees as it did with academic fees in the spring, or if it will leave the fees for the students, he said.
The district budgeted $691,000 to cover academic fees for books and equipment during the 2018-19 school year. Prior to the Board’s decision, students and their families either had to pay or go through a fee waiver process.
At the time of the Board voting to take on the academic fees, Board President Andrew Caplan said fees for athletics and extra-curricular activities would still be paid by students, but he hoped to find a way to make the options more affordable for students in the next year.
The Board will have the ultimate say on what fees it will continue to cover and the fee maximums, but Caplan said under the proposed rule, the community would have a much larger role in the decision-making process.
“What is the right thing to do for our community? Is the right thing to provide those activity options to everyone or to provide a certain amount to everyone or to provide a certain stipend? There are all kinds of different outcomes that could be acceptable,” he said.
Caplan said he is proud of Park City’s decision to remove academic fees, because the district is a leader to others in the state. He admitted the decision was a little controversial, but the Board wanted to remove barriers for students to participate in courses. Now, he is glad the Board went through with its decision.
“I’m excited that we’re out in front of it,” he said.
“Focus on the data outcomes, on the academic achievement outcomes, on the rankings that we have. The school board is happy with the direction of the district,” said Andrew Caplan, school board president. “We can always do a better job, especially with things that aren’t our core expertise like building and land management.”
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