Your 'free' education is getting costlier as school fees rise

News-DemocratJuly 6, 2013 

Two metro-east school districts -- O'Fallon District 90 and Mascoutah District 19 -- have doubled the student fees for next school year, and Pontiac-William Holliday District 105 will charge student fees for the first time.

District 90 Superintendent Todd Koehl said the increase in student fees is a direct result of the April 9 referendum failing. The district had asked voters for a 49 cent property tax increase, which would have brought the education fund rate from $1.40 to $1.89.

Junior high students attending District 90 schools will be required to pay $200 next school year, and the fee for elementary school students will be $180.

"We don't have any money from the state," Koehl said.

He explained the student fee increase was a part of the district's "broad-based reduction plan" if the referendum failed, along with cutting teachers and slashing programs.

Mascoutah School District 19 is nearly tripling the instructional costs for high school students from $40 to $110. The instructional costs covers textbooks, curriculum materials, planners, workbooks, technology supplies, among other things, according to the district.

The instructional costs for middle schoolers was increased from $40 to $70, and for elementary school students it jumped from $15 to $55.

The athletics fee for middle and high school students doubled to $30 for high schoolers and $20 per sport for middle schoolers -- both have a $60 maximum. The driver's education fee for Mascoutah High School students was also increased $25 to $125 for next school year.

Mascoutah Superintendent Craig Fiegel attributed the increases to a "loss of revenue from the state and federal government."

As a result of automatic spending cuts mandated by Congress, often referred to as the sequester, Mascoutah School District is expected to receive less in impact aid funding from the federal government. Impact aid is provided to school districts near military bases and tribal lands to make up for the lack of land subject to property taxes.

"We looked at ways we can increase revenue. Our fees were relatively low when compared to other surrounding districts. We thought we had a little room to increase our fees and offset some of our loss in revenue," Fiegel said. "We hate to do that, but we're trying to make a balance of reductions and ways we might be able to generate a little bit more revenue in another way that we don't think is too terrible for our parents."

The district also made $600,000 in budget reductions for the 2013-14 budget cycle including not filling positions vacated by retirees. The district's total budget is approximately $30 million.

Families that qualify for free or reduced lunch can also qualify for student fee waivers, according to Fiegel.

Pontiac-William Holliday Superintendent Julie Brown said the district will begin charging students a $50 fee for the 2013-14 school year if paid by Oct. 1. The fee will increase to $60 if paid after that date. The district previously didn't charge student fees.

Brown explained the district needs to charge the fee as a result of a decrease in state and local funding.

Fees at other districts

Student fees will remain the same at a majority of districts in St. Clair County including Belleville District 201, Belleville District 118, Belle Valley District 119, Cahokia District 187, O'Fallon District 203, Grant District 110, High Mount District 116, Harmony-Emge District 175, Signal Hill District 181 and Wolf Branch District 113.

"We are trying to help our parents as much as we can," said Matt Klosterman, superintendent of Belleville District 118.

However, District 118 school board members are expected to review the breakfast/lunch prices and latchkey fees at the next board meeting on July 16.

The fees for students in kindergarten through fifth-grade at Whiteside District 115 will remain the same at $65 next school year, according to Superintendent Peggy Burke. The fees for sixth- through eighth-graders will increase $10 to $75 next year, but Burke said the students will no longer be required to pay any additional fees during the school year for units such as skating in physical education.

Superintendent Jennifer Filyaw said book fees for Shiloh District 85 students will increase $5 from $45 to $50 next school year.

Registration fees for students in Central District 104 in O'Fallon went up $20 for next school year, according to Superintendent John Bute. The registration fee will be $35. "The registration fee remains one of the lowest in St. Clair County," he said.

The technology fee also increased by $5 to $25 for middle school students, Bute said, and a sports and clubs fee of $5 was created with a maximum of $10 per middle schooler.

In Madison County, some districts have had modest increases. Edwardsville increased its textbook rental fee by $10 at each grade level, and doubled its participation fees for sports and performing arts to $50 for middle school and $100 for high school.

Triad increased its fees by $5, while Highland added a $50 fee for elementary band and increased middle school sports and band to $135. Highland's high school sports and band went from $150 to $225, with a new $25 fee for other extracurricular activities.

However, in Collinsville and Granite City, fees remained the same. Granite City charges a $25 book fee per student, with no fees for sports or performing arts.

Lunch prices

Lunch prices are also on the rise for school districts across the metro-east.

Mascoutah School District increased lunch prices for students, K-12, by 15 cents to $2.20 for K-5 and $2.30 for grades 6-12. The adult lunch prices jumped to $3 -- an increase of 35 cents. Breakfast prices remain the same.

Student lunches at Whiteside District 115, Shiloh District 85, Central District 104, Wolf Branch District 110 and Pontiac-William Holliday District 105 will increase by 10 cents.

At Whiteside District 115, students lunches will cost $1.80, and breakfast will be $1.20. At Shiloh District 85 student lunches will now cost $1.85, and breakfast will be $1.25.

For students in Central District 104, lunch prices will be $1.85. Breakfast prices will stay the same.

Student lunches at Wolf Branch School District 110 will cost $2. The district doesn't offer breakfast.

Both the lunch and breakfast prices will go up a nickel for Belleville District 201 students next school year. Student breakfast will cost $1.30 and lunch $2.35.

Lunch and breakfast prices at O'Fallon District 90, Grant District 110, High Mount District 116, Belle Valley District 119, Harmony-Emge District 175 and Signal Hill District 181 will remain the same next school year.

Both East St. Louis School District 189 and Cahokia School District 187's high percentage of free and reduced lunch students allows the districts to offer free lunch to all students, according to district officials.

BND reporter Elizabeth Donald contributed to this story. Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or jforsythe1@bnd.com. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/BND_JForsythe.

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