District eliminates elective fees

Classes like photography, debate and band give students opportunities for creativity and personal expression, but only for a price.

The district decided this past fall and over the summer to eliminate introductory level course fees for the 2014-2015 school year. According to the USD 497 Assistant Director of the Teaching and Learning department, Sarah Oatsvall, the courses with eliminated fees will be the ones that don’t require a prerequisite or an audition.

“One of the things that we identified this year is that course fees sometimes hinder students in both their willingness and their ability to take certain classes,” Oatsvall said, “so we wanted to remove those fees to allow students to be able to participate in all activities.”

In the current course description book, Graphic Design I and Graphic Design II are both listed to have a $25 fee. With the changes for next school year, Graphic Design I will be free for students to take while Graphic Design II will still require the course fee.

“We want students to feel comfortable taking a class in an area that they haven’t explored before without having the issue of funding or fees deter them from taking that class,” Oatsvall said.

The district has been looking into elimination of course fees for around two years now.

“We’ve been looking into the amount of money that we have collected from fees,” Oatsvall said, “[and] The amount of money that programs need, as well as the number of students who sign up for classes and the fees that are associated with that.”

 They took their first step at the middle school level by eliminating course fees for this 2013-2014 school year. After seeing success in their action, the district found it logical and necessary to make a change at the high schools as well.

For some teachers, like photography teacher Karen Musacchio and debate and forensics teacher Jason Moore, the origin of the money doesn’t matter just as long as it’s there.

“I just order the supplies,” Musacchio said. “I don’t have any idea how much the kids have given me, I just know I have a budget I have to work around.”

Counselor Joel Frederick is enthusiastic about the opportunity that the change in the fees will bring.

“I think it’s a great thing that they’re doing,” Frederick said. “It provides opportunity for a lot of kids that maybe wouldn’t have the opportunity, but whether or not it’s financially prudent, I don’t know.”

A sudden lack of course fees could present teachers with a difficult financial situation. Regardless of who pays, each course still requires supplies, which someone must purchase. With the current fee-paying system, students who qualify for free or reduced lunch are exempt from paying course fees. The district doesn’t compensate for these unpaid fees; rather, the fees simply sit unpaid.

 Now, when virtually every student can take introductory level classes without paying a fee, teachers hope enough funds will be provided.

“(The fees) help with purchasing supplies to help run our tournament,” Moore said. “They go toward travel expenses and purchasing scripts and membership fees to certain websites.”

The district claims the courses will in no way be negatively affected by the change, as the district general funds will now cover the fees that were previously  covered by the students.

The district is making a big commitment to cover all these funds. While there may be some skepticism surrounding whether the district can fully compensate for the funds which they took no part in previously, the district is confident with their thoroughly discussed decision.

“The programs will actually be financially better off than previously,” Oatsvall said, “And it’s the commitment from the district to use district funds to support those courses so that parents don’t have to pay fees.”