School fees, part un

February 27, 2007

I fear I’m about to get into an argument. It will be my first, so I’m just all giddy with excitement.

On trash talk radio this afternoon, the president of Parents for Public Education, Dennis Locking, came on and talked about the school fees issue.

For all of you who mightn’t be familiar with how things work in Alberta, I’ll explicate a bit before we get into the issues involved (for there are many):

Public education is funded by the province, which allocates money to school boards in a manner which can only be described as bistromathematics; there is no rhyme, and very little reason to it. It’s not related to the educational portion of property taxes, it’s not based on any per-capita value, and it certainly isn’t based on anything resembling logic.

It does seem to sway with the whim of our provincial government, however.

School boards allocate their budget to individual schools largely on a per-capita basis, with bonuses for any coded (at risk) students. But from this lump sum (the core school budget) there are clawbacks. For example, schools are obliged to pay the board back for such things as technology support and excess teacher sick days.

Yep, you heard that right: if the school blows the sub budget, then the individual school is responsible for paying substitute teachers. This happened to us (my school) a few years ago. A teacher had a chronic health condition, which required one or two sick days a week, and which, for some reason, was not being covered by long term disability. Our school had to fork out for it.

The pool of money a school has to work with is called the decentralized budget, and it amounts to a hundred or two thousand dollars, depending on the size of the school.

From this, schools pay for lunch room supervisors (which they are required to hire by the board), office supplies, an admin secretary (or fraction thereof), the photocopier (or two or three), computers, textbooks, paper, repairs for little things, insurance premiums for big things (like vandalism), school desks, white board replacements, and a myriad of other little pidly things.

Trust me on this; $160 000 sounds like a lot, but doesn’t go far enough.

To supplement this, schools are authorized to collect supplementary fees from every student. For example, at junior high (which is where I’m currently teaching), these amount to:

  • Instructional Resource Fee – $105
  • Refundable Security Deposit – $50
  • Bus Fees – $145
  • Band Instrument Rental – $65
  • Lunch Activity Fee – $30

The $30 incidental fees charged by schools last year were eliminated this year.

Note that there is no “school supplies fee” or “photocopy fee”

The supplementary resource fee covers materials that teachers use on behalf of students. Things like food for the Foods CTS option, photocopying student materials, maintaining computers, trifolds for student presentations, poster board for other student presentations, and the like.

It’s not for student photocopy use (which is why we charge students for use of the photcopier) or pencils or notebooks.

The $50 caution fee gets refunded to students if their lockers have not been damaged, their locks were returned, and there’s not undue damage to textbooks.

There are many problems with this system of supplementary fees, not the least of which being that parents with two kids in school could be paying six or seven hundred dollars of fees in September.

That places an undue stress on parents, and makes teachers and schools out aqs being the bad guys in the equation.

The simple solution is not so simple. It’s two-fold, in fact. School boards need to fund schools properly. And to do that, the Province needs to fund school boards properly. Until they do that, it’s no use bitching to teachers.

You gets what you votes for.

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