Could school fees be more family friendly?

Published 12:05 am Sunday, September 18, 2016

Rowan-Salisbury board discusses options for next year


By Rebecca Rider

SALISBURY — This year, the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education plans to tackle the issue of student fees, and families may be in for a break at the start of the next school year.

While some topics — such as technology fees — were put off until the end of the 2016-17 school year, the board spent much of its monthly work session discussing the possibility of reducing band, parking and technology fees.

Fees can pile up, especially for families who have more than one child in school. At the meeting last Monday, board member Travis Allen painted a picture of a family with two students in high school who both are members of the marching band, park at school and pay technology fees.

“It costs the family $550 just to pull into the parking lot,” he said.

According to the board’s meeting notes, marching band fees in Rowan-Salisbury Schools range from $50 to $250. Allen said he would like to see the board provide a supplement for students involved in marching band.

While most bands can raise money to help offset costs and fees, board member Jean Kennedy said she didn’t believe that fundraising was as much of a boon as it seemed.

“We have students who simply cannot generate some of these funds,” she said.

The discussion quickly turned to oversight of fundraising and support groups like the band boosters.

“Do we in any way hold these various associations accountable for the funds that they run in the name of the schools?” Kennedy wondered.

Currently, there is no system oversight for groups like band boosters, and administrative staff confirmed that there is no uniformity across the district about how the groups raise funds and how the money is used.

Board member Dr. Richard Miller said he appreciated the hard work and volunteer hours the booster clubs pour into a school but called for a measure of accountability.

“What legally can we do?” he asked. “Because these monies are being generated by a school function.”

Ken Soo, the board’s lawyer, acknowledged that, “there’s a lot of vulnerability there.” But he added that the board did have some measure of legal authority, and it would be within its capabilities to put into place accountability measures such as an annual audit.

The board also expressed a desire to see districtwide uniformity in athletic event entry fees.

The board also spent some time discussing parking fees. Students currently pay $50 to park for an entire school year; 30 percent of all funds earned are given to the district for use by the facilities and grounds department. The rest of the money goes to the school for use in beautification, security or parking lot maintenance. However, Anthony Vann, assistant superintendent for operations, said the funds generated would not be enough to tackle a major project such as striping or repaving.

“Even if you took the entire, all of our high schools, it would take a lot of years before you’d even be able to repave one school,” he said.

Board member Dean Hunter said that if the fees couldn’t even pay for parking lot maintenance, it may be better to not have a fee at all — or if the fee remained, 100 percent of the funds should go to the school. Allen agreed, and pointed out that schools would have no other way to recoup funds for projects if parking fees were eliminated entirely.

“It seems like the better beneficiary of the fee would be the school itself,” Allen said.

Finally, the discussion turned to technology fees.

“I don’t have a problem with a fee, but I would like to look into a cap fee for families,” Allen said.

Technology fees go towards covering the cost of repairs and purchasing e-textbooks and services used in the classroom, such as Achieve3000. Extra funds are saved for the next year for repair costs, which are expected to increase every year. Administrative officials said that they were unsure what the repair bill for the 2016-17 school year would be, but that the third and final year of its contract with Apple was anticipated to have the highest repair expense. Last year, the system paid out $316,989 for repairs and supplies, up from $88,374 the previous year. This year, the cost is expected to jump again — to $612,000.

The board agreed to table the discussion until the end of the school year, when more accurate information would be available.

In other news, the board:

  • Changed the time of its Sept. 26 business meeting. The meeting will begin at 4 p.m. Public comment will be held at 6 p.m.
  • Discussed allowing sixth graders to participate in certain school sports, as is now allowed by state.
  • Received information about roof replacement projects that have been scheduled.

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264.