Tuesday, August 22, 2000

School fees add up

By Lori Hayes
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        It may be public education, but it isn't free. Expect to pay $30 for student supplies, $15 for parking and $5 for a locker at one school.

        At another school, it might be $8 for a student planner, $35 for a cooking class, $42 for art, $18 for English, $10 for algebra. Don't forget textbook rental.

        Add in pay-to-play sports fees and the cost of any club your child wants to join.

        As thousands of Tristate students head back to school this month, their parents are writing checks or stuffing cash in envelopes (some districts don't accept checks) for student fees or supplies. Beyond the budget for clothes, backpacks and binders, there are student fees, athletic fees, course fees, supply fees, locker fees and more.

        Blame inadequate state funding and failed levies,

        school officials say. There's just not enough money for everything, so parents must pick up the slack.

        In Kentucky, high school students rent textbooks because the state Education Department does not give districts money for books for ninth- through 12th-graders. Across the river, Lebanon high school students pay $3 to $68 per course, and Cincinnati student athletes surrender $150 before they take the field.

        “I know there are taxpayers out there saying, "I pay my taxes, and these are public schools and should be absolutely free,'” said Beechwood Independent Schools Superintendent Fred Bassett. “Given the funding situation, there's not enough money to make it absolutely free. ... We've been charging fees as long as I can remember.”

        The costs don't approach what parents pay for Tristate private schools, which range from $500 to $17,000 a year for tuition, but public school parents are often surprised by the breadth and amount of fees.

        “I understand the need for the parents to help,” said Miranda Buckingham, a mother of three students at Newport Independent Schools. “But some of the fees are outrageous.”

        Every year, Ms. Buckingham spends at least $70 apiece on fees and supplies for her eighth-grader Erika, seventh-grader Keith and second-grader Kevin.

        A survey of several Kentucky and Ohio public schools showed that student fees are the most common. It is a general fee that usually goes toward classroom supplies.

        Elementary students in Beechwood pay a $35 student fee. That pays for “consumable items” such as construction paper, glue and paste, Mr. Bassett said.

        High schoolers seem to bear the higher costs. Amounts vary but can include textbook rental, parking, course fees and sometimes athletic fees. Course fees are based on class needs. Art and science classes tend to be the most expensive because they require safety goggles, chemicals and paints.

        At Lebanon City Schools, high school students pay fees based on the course. Spanish costs $14, accounting is $45 and creative cooking is $36.

        In Newport Independent Schools, grade school kids get a list of supplies to buy: notebooks, erasers, crayons and glue.

        If families can't afford everything on the list, the schools' family resource centers will lend a hand, said Jack Hicks, a spokesman for the Newport district.

        Under Kentucky law, school boards must make the same books and supplies available to all children. Some districts waive the fee for students who qualify based on income, while others cover the costs through family resource centers or private donations.

        “A lot of the teachers end up paying for things out of their own pocket,” Mr. Hicks said.

        Cincinnati Public Schools base student fees on family income and the number of students from each family.

        Households with incomes over $25,000 a year pay $26 for elementary school students and $35 for high school students. For those with incomes less than $8,499, the fees drop to $9 and $12, respectively, and as low as $7 and $9 if three children are in the district.

        The fees help schools buy classroom materials, Cincinnati treasurer Michael Geoghegan said. But parents and students must also purchase supplies listed by teachers, including tissues and plastic cups for the classroom, as well as protractors, calculators, scissors and highlighters.

        So what happens if parents who can afford the fees just don't pay up? Most of the time, nothing, Beechwood's Mr. Bassett said, although some districts withhold report cards for nonpayment.

        School officials may hound parents for unpaid fees, but they can't refuse to educate children.

        Ms. Buckingham said she doesn't mind buying her children's individual supplies, “but books and learning materials, they should come from the schools.

        “All this money's going to playgrounds, and we're struggling to get paper in the classrooms.”

        Chris Gramke, community relations director for Campbell County Schools, said his district hasn't received many complaints about the fees, which he called “minimal.” Campbell County charges elementary and middle school students $14-$20 for supplies. The high schoolers shell out a $30 general fee, $8 for the student agenda and $4-$8 per textbook.

        Ms. Buckingham said parents should demand more funding.

        “We pay our taxes, and we support our government,” she said. “The government should support our children.”

        Enquirer reporter Andrea Tortora contributed to this article.



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