Monday, September 7, 2009

Class Fees - Why YOU Should Care

So what's the big hairy deal? One school came up with an ingenious way to pad the fundraising coffers, by charging a class fee paid through the SCO. Who cares?

You should ALL care. Why? Because it is wrong on so many levels. We'll list here just a few of the glaring reasons why this is wrong. Let's start with the gorilla in the room, to use Caren Diedrich's pet phrase.

Economic Diversity is NOT balanced across the district.
Eastside just happens to have the 2nd lowest number of children eligible for free or reduced priced lunches in the district. [Don't believe us...but DO see the graphics at right that come directly from DPI data as reported by the district]. Why does that matter? Because if fewer families are suffering from poverty in the Eastside school boundary, a much larger percentage of families could afford to pay a class fee. This puts Eastside at a competitive advantage in terms of fundraising. Since the revenues from fundraising go towards buying nice things like (ahem!) new playground equipment, THESE kids would also benefit from having "better things" at their schools.

Maybe the kids at Westside and Bird would like new playground equipment...or something else. But given the percentage of families that are struggling in these schools, it would be much harder to generate revenues from class fees.

And that is just plain WRONG, people. The school board knows it. When (several years back) a group of Royal Oaks parents offered to pay for brand new school computers the school board (correctly) said " Thanks, but we can't allow that.". Why? because it creates an imbalance between schools. Equity has to be everything when it comes to education. Geee...isn't that the mission statement of this school district?

It amounts to a double tax
The whole purpose of establishing a budget and assessing a tax levy is to fund schools. The revenues from state and federal aids combined with property tax levies is designed to cover ALL the costs of education. If the budget is short (which is a hard case to make considering the sizable budget surpluses in recent years) then we need to tell the school board and district to increase the budget.

These class fees represent a tax on top of the property tax already in place. Fundraising should be voluntary. These class fees were represented as a "requirement". And no other school was imposing them.

Somebody lied when they said they didn't know.
We don't like to call people out like this (ok...maybe we do...but just a little). But the facts speak for themselves folks. People in charge knew about the fees, even though they denied such knowledge. They can deny it till they're blue in the face. We don't care. There's just too many people who had opportunity to be aware of the fees and too many claims of "There are no fees". Good grief. The only other logical conclusion is that these same people were absolutely, unequivocally CLUELESS. Hey...there's a good question...would you rather have school board members that will lie? Or those that are clueless?

Eastside Principal Craig Coulthart KNEW - hell, it's his school! He was at the meeting where the fees were discussed! He approved the newsletter that discussed them. Did he not even look at it?

School board member McSeabass KNEW - he was the school board liaison and was also at the fateful meeting.

Ass't District Administrator Phil Frei MUST have known. His kids attend Eastside. Surely, as a good parent, he reads the newsletter?

School board member Al Slane MUST have known- his kids go to Eastside. His wife is the ESCO vice President. He claims he gives all kinds of money to the ESCO...but he claims he didn't know about or pay the fees.

School board member Terry Shimek MUST have known- his kid goes to Eastside. His wife teaches there. but he claims he didn't know about or pay the fees.

But in the end, in a public forum, the existence of the class fees was absolutely denied. This is WRONG, folks...on EVERY conceivable scale. A bunch of people have some serious 'splainin' to do...and the school board should launch an investigation.

The brakes SHOULD have been put on the idea of class fees
It is the school board's JOB to know about this stuff. And it's their JOB to take action to initiate a cease and desist order when these things inexplicably emerge. Sorry, JohnE Whalen, but that's not micro-managing, that's management 101. If you can't trust the employees to ferret out this stuff and shut it down, then you're simply not being a good enough manager, and the employees' cages need to be rattled.

Where do we go from here?
You can't take the playground equipment back. That train has definitely left the station.

But you CAN do some/all of the following (of course, since SP-EYE recommends it, we pretty much guarantee the board will do absolutely nothing)

1. Put this item on the next meeting agenda.

2. Get the FACTS. Demand accountability.

3. Fortify your policies to ensure class fees of any kind, framed in any way, are absolutely unacceptable.

4. Put it in your employees' performance reviews

5. Figure out a way to police the SCOs.

6. Demand that SCOs have a a complete accounting of their revenues (including specific source for each) and expenditures.

7. Inventory the other schools, particularly those with high populations of children eligible for free/reduced price lunches, and make sure they have equity in their playground equipment with Eastside.

8. Apologize to the community