Summit County school districts explore cutbacks to reduce student fees
The Utah State Board of Education determined last year that exorbitant school fees charged by districts around the state needed to change. Now, as school districts in Summit County look to reduce school fees, leaders are asking the question, “Who should pay for student activities?”
School districts must change their school fee policies this year due to new rules put in place by the State Board of Education and a recent law passed by the Utah Legislature. The goal of the policy changes is to reduce fees so all students, regardless of their financial situations, have the opportunity to participate in classes and extracurricular activities. But in a state that already has a reputation of poor funding for public education, districts are left scrambling to decide how to fund the courses and programs.
Julie Black, business administrator of the North Summit School District, said the district is removing book fees and locker fees because of the new law. She said the district has always paid for textbooks, but students were charged a $5 book fee as a deposit to ensure students returned the books at the end of the year.
The law also requires districts to detail how class fees and activity fees will be used. Districts will be required to keep records of how many students received fee waivers, what was waived and who takes on the cost of the fees. By January 2020, all Utah districts will need to make changes to their school fee policies and establish per-student caps. The caps will be put in place so no student pays too many fees because they participate in multiple activities.
The State Board of Education’s rules also state that local school boards should limit student expenditures for school-sponsored activities, classes or programs when it can.
Black said the district will discuss the possibility of removing some class fees entirely, particularly in classes with high fees such as woodshop, art and driver’s education. Last year, the driver’s education fee was about $100, Black said. But, she added, the district does not have a lot of funding to spare to make up for the costs.
“I would love to see every child have the opportunity to do what they wish to do, but it is difficult to be able to fund that,” she said.
North Summit currently has fee waivers in place, and Black said the school and the district cover the cost for students who need the waivers.
Shad Sorenson, superintendent of South Summit School District, said South Summit tries to cut student fees when it can, but the fees allow the district to offer more programs and activities.
“Hard decisions will have to be made as to if you pick up fees, what do you reduce?” he said. “One of my biggest fears is that we will see because of this, programs will start to diminish, and I think that is short-changing students.”
He said the district will likely have to cut programs that have minimal impact on students so it can put more funding toward programs with more student involvement.
The Park City Board of Education discussed school fees during its most recent meeting last week. Business Administrator Todd Hauber presented the extracurricular fees the district is currently charging, and the Board said some of the activities have a high cost.
Cheerleading in the 2020-21 school year is expected to cost students $750, for instance. Debate will cost $700.
Board members said they plan to review the list of fees and discuss whether the district can remove any extracurricular fees, such as ones to join the National Junior Honor Society. Last year, the Board voted to get rid of mandatory and academic-related fees for students, and it cost the district more than $600,000.
Andrew Caplan, president of the Board, said the Board voted to remove those fees because it wanted to make school more equitable for students. It previously had fee waivers in place, but the Board said some students felt uncomfortable asking for waivers to participate in courses or programs and would not sign up.
Caplan said there needs to be a community conversation about how many fees the district can and should take on. This summer, for example, students in Park City High School’s band program are traveling to Normandy, France, to perform. Students and their families are covering a lot of the cost.
“How do you provide that opportunity for all children, not just the ones who can afford to pay the check?” Caplan said. “There are a lot of things that are available to some students but not all based on affordability.”
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