Bowsher students, from left, Troy Rios, Marion Reid, and Georgianna Whitely paid an extra fee for a metal technology class, where Dave Fink teaches them about a drill press.
With two children in high school, Dennis Recker expected some additional expenses this school year.
But even as superintendent of the school district that his children attend, he can't avoid writing checks for almost $200 to the school system.
As students returned for the new school year, most parents in northwest Ohio reached into their wallets and purses over the past month to pay not only for back-to-school fashions, but for school supplies. Even though many people think their tax dollars pay for public education, most Ohio schools charge fees like those that Mr. Recker paid last week to his own Liberty-Benton School District in Hancock County.
"Statutorily, [schools] are required to pay all taxable costs," Mr. Recker said. "Anything over that - books, lab fees - may be billed out to the individual. We try to hold fees to reasonable levels, but in terms of funding, all schools are getting whacked."
Michigan schools, including Bedford and Monroe, can charge parents for their children to participate in athletics and for driver's education, which is not part of the curriculum. But other school fees are prohibited.
Bedford Superintendent Jon White said that policy should be national. "We value the support our community gives us and even though we are in tough financial times, outside of athletics, we haven't asked for any kind of fee structure," he said. "I believe that we should be funded to the extent that we don't have to ask our community for additional funds."
Some Ohio school districts, including Lake Local, Genoa, and Woodmore, charge "pay-to-play" fees for sports, which have been enacted at about half the state's schools. Most Ohio districts charge variable or flat fees for each child to cover expenses for paper and other supplies. On top of that, there are additional costs for elective courses that may require special materials.
The Springfield Local School District has a $50 flat fee for first through fifth grade and $60 for middle school through high school. Parents who want their youngsters to attend kindergarten, however, will have to shell out $80.
Superintendent Cynthia Beekley said the district charges a higher fee for kindergarten because the schools buy a lot of supplies for that grade. "Our fees cover the cost of things that children consume. At every grade level we do charge the full amount, but we have tried to hold the line," she said. "The fees do not cover all of our costs. In kindergarten, we spend about $100 per student for supplies."
Swanton Treasurer Cheryl Swisher said the Fulton County district has managed to hold the line on fees for two years now, but they are a necessary evil. "They cover any type of workbook or supplies," she said.
Perrysburg Superintendent Michael Cline added, "There is a pretty wide variety of fees."
High school often means fees as much as $200 per student or more, Mr. Cline said. At Perrysburg High School, a manufacturing and construction course has a $20 fee, an advanced painting class has a $30 fee, and enriched chemistry costs $36.
Yet even in the lower grade levels, extra courses like choir, art, and living skills cost an extra $28 for a seventh-grade student.
James Rossler, Jr., treasurer for Rossford schools, said fees are based on what courses students take. Rossford High School's French II students pay $22; Art I costs $10, and English 12 college-bound costs $6.
Students taking the photojournalism class are required to own a 35-millimeter camera and pay costs of film developing, which could be as high as $120. "If they are taking a photography course, they are going to eat up a lot of film and other materials," he said. "With a home economics course, there is a lot of food."
Toledo Public Schools, the region's largest public school district with just under 33,000 students, does not charge flat-rate fees per grade but does have costs associated with elective courses.
For example, there is a $30 charge for its Russian III course to cover the cost of the workbook. The fee for career technology classes like metals, manufacturing, or furniture design is just $15, but the cost of materials for projects that exceed that are passed on to the student.
Students in TPS music classes are expected to furnish their own supplies, such as reeds or strings for certain instruments, plus pay a fee. For participation in the Toledo Youth Orchestra, the cost is $75.
Glenda Hathaway, TPS curriculum director, said the district strives to keep fees as low as possible. The district does offer fee waivers, based on family income.
"We would never shut a child out of a course," she said. "It's important to keep fees as reasonable or as low as possible because we have such a wide range of socioeconomic needs in the district."
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