To ensure equity, group proposes school board eliminate high school class fees

The Edmonds School District Board of Directors during their Dec. 11 meeting heard a proposal from the Equity in Funding Work Group that could potentially eliminate high school class fees.

The work group, headed by newly-elected School Board President Diana White and Lynnwood High School Assistant Principal Dave Golden, recently recommended the school board adopt a standardized school supply list for elementary schools within the district. While the work group initially concentrated on adopting standard user fees for high schools, it is now proposing the school board adopt a “no class fee” policy, Golden said.

“We’ve been focusing on secondary school fees, classes required for graduation and equity of access to a free public education,” he said.

The school board will now consider the proposed policy. If approved, it would go into effect for the 2019-20 school year.

Golden said it is important to differentiate between a “fee” and a “fine.” A fee, he said, is something collected for class materials or supplies and usually results in students bringing something home, like a finished art project. Fee revenue goes into each individual school’s building budget.

A fine is the result of an unpaid fee. In 2016, the school board wrote off $435,313 in accumulated and uncollected fines, White said.

“This was over many years,” she said, “But we do know fines stay on the books for many years. We had some ages of people who were 31, who still had a fine.”

White said these fines create barriers, like preventing access to school transcripts and records.

When it comes to fees, not all district schools operate the same way, and White said there is no reasoning for inconsistent fees across all high schools.

“It was just a real eye opener to understand how inconsistent it was,” she said.

According to White, when a high school student who qualifies for either free or reduced lunch signs up for a class, any fees required for the class are supposed to be waived. However, she said, the building is never getting any reimbursement from the school district, which leads to higher class fees being set. This in turn means some students can’t sign up for classes due to exorbitant fees. 

“So, when high schools are sitting down and trying to figure out the cost of a class, like a pottery class, they have to come look at the paying customers and how much the paying customers are going to subsidize classroom materials,” she said.

This has become a barrier for students’ access to certain courses. In some instances, students who wanted to sign up for Advanced Placement (AP) classes in high school and even took the required prerequisite tests could not afford the class fee and decided against signing up, White said.

“I think if we opened up for more feedback, we’d hear that story time and again,” she said.

Golden said the elimination of high school class fees, other than those for the Running Start college courses, would provide more students with the opportunity to get the most from their high school education. However, he said, the school board would need to commit to raising the schools’ building budgets to offset the cost for class materials that would otherwise be covered by fees.

“Traditionally, this whole system developed many, many years ago when the idea of ‘the kids will take something home and therefore we have to charge them,'” he said. “But in point of fact, the things they take home are the product of the skills they are learning in class.”

Golden compared this to a sculpture made in art class. He said the value was not in the sculpture the student is supposed to be paying for, but the appreciation for art and the skills learned in the class.

Work group member Tiffany Hansen, a former Meadowdale High School Booster Club president, said she was shocked to discover about 80 percent of the classes with fees are arts classes.

“Edmonds School District is a huge arts school district,” she said. “We have so many successful students in music, drama, film and photography going out into the state and United States and winning awards. We need to support that, hopefully without a fee.”

While the work group’s initial idea of standardizing class fees for students would be an easy first step, White said eliminating fees would be an even bolder step.

“That’s really going to eliminate some inequities in the system,” she said. “We need to take this one step further.”

In addition to electing White as the new school board president Dec. 10, the board selected Deborah Kilgore as vice-president and Carin Chase as legislative representative.

The school board was treated to a holiday choral performance by the Chase Lake Community School kindergarten students.

The board also recognized two schools for earning recent awards:

  •   Edmonds Elementary, 2018 School of Distinction Award
  • Terrace Park Challenge Program, National Blue Ribbon School Award

 — Story and photos by Cody Sexton

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