Board of Education engages in latest discussion of student fees and donations

Student donations and fees were back in the spotlight at last week’s Board of Education meeting, as the district’s director of secondary education discussed the steps IUSD has taken to ensure compliance of California’s right to a free public education and outlined the impacts of seeking donations to preserve programs and activities.

Last year, following an internal review of impermissible fees, IUSD set out to clarify that all parent donations for educational activities are voluntary, and that students will not be denied participation if their families decline to contribute. Having calculated the worst-case impact of this effort, IUSD set aside $3.5 million to cover the cost of essential programs and activities that exceeded donation amounts, with the goal of promoting equity districtwide.

Secondary Education Director Keith Tuominen told board members on March 21 that the district is now projecting $1.2 million will be used to bridge the gap in 2011-12, leaving some reserve funds available to cover future shortfalls.

IUSD had begun the process of analyzing its own practices back in 2010, shortly before the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the state over improper fees, charges and deposits imposed on public school students. Though new legislation was later introduced to codify existing laws and to detail new audit procedures, the bill known as AB 165 was ultimately rejected by Governor Jerry Brown in October.

Despite the veto, Brown asserted that the California Constitution guarantees the right to a free public education.

“Local district compliance with this right is essential, and those who fail should be held accountable,” the governor wrote. “But this bill takes the wrong approach to getting there.”

The law does allow schools and districts to request voluntary donations, and that’s how IUSD has preserved some of its more vital educational offerings.

Tuominen’s presentation specifically addressed school-year programs, including athletics and Extended Day P.E., as well as summer school programs, summer athletic camps and school-based activities.

This is the first year that IUSD has tracked family contributions to this extent, he said, and the full picture for many schools may not be clear until the end of the year. He added that the impacts on students have been largely mitigated with minor changes and the use of reserve funds.

Meanwhile, parent contributions continue to be essential. This year alone, donations totaling more than $2 million have helped preserve high school summer courses, summer athletic camps, Extended Day P.E. and other valuable educational opportunities, Tuominen said.

To read a PDF recap of the March 21 Board of Education meeting, click here.