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School fee season approaches

Amount local parents will pay varies by district, activities and classes

Published: Monday, Aug. 4, 2014 11:17 p.m. CST • Updated: Monday, Aug. 4, 2014 11:35 p.m. CST

The time of year has come for parents to open their wallets and pay for their children's public education, which could cost hundreds of dollars depending on where they go to school.

Illinois law allows public school districts to charge fees for consumable goods, with costs for items such as workbooks and textbooks falling into parents' laps, depending on the district. School districts across DeKalb County also charge fees for lockers, graduation and technology depending on the district.

"It's a revenue stream to cover costs," Genoa-Kingston District 424 Superintendent Joe Burgess said. "We do not bring in enough in tax revenues to cover costs."

Last year, registration fees, including those from Kishwaukee Education Consortium and driver's education fees, netted District 424 about $195,000.

The state doesn't have a formula for how much districts can charge. As a result, there's no uniformity across districts. Costs differ depending on where a student attends school, the sports or activities they're involved in and the classes they take.

Parents of an elementary school student at Hinckley Big-Rock District 429 could pay as little at $93 this year, but those of an elementary student in DeKalb District 428 will pay at least $125.

Genoa-Kingston District 424, Somonauk District 432 and Sandwich District 430 have the highest basic registration fees among DeKalb County high schools, with each charging $195.

Burgess explained the high school registration fee is higher than those at other area schools because the district doesn't charge a fee for sports or parking as others do.

“We don't have an activity fee,” Burgess said. “That's their fee.”

Student-athletes at DeKalb and Sycamore high schools pay a separate $100 fee to participate in sports. A Sycamore High School student who plans to park at school will pay $160 for a parking permit while a DeKalb High School driver will pay $50.

Parents also have to shell out cash if their children are taking specific classes or participating in activities. For instance, Sycamore's District 427 charges $30 for advanced biology and physics or advanced horticulture classes.

District 427 Superintendent Kathy Countryman said she occasionally hears complaints from parents about the fees, which she maintains are necessary to make up for shortfalls in funding from the state or property taxes, as well as the rising costs of the items they cover.

“With the financial constraints that school districts are under, as well as the rising costs of materials, it's just something we have to do at this point,” Countryman said.

Instructional registration fees account for 1 percent of District 427's operating budget revenue, bringing in $364,000 last year.

DeKalb District 428's board recently increased fees for some of its high school courses. Some of DeKalb High School's advanced clothing, textiles and fashion class fees went from $40 to $60 this year. Parents also will pay between $23 and $87 for their children to take Spanish or French classes, a couple of dollars more than last year, depending on the class.

District 428 hasn't raised its basic registration fees since the 2009-2010 school year, when prices jumped by $30.

All school districts in Illinois also must waive fees for students who qualify for free lunch and cut them for students who qualify for a reduced-cost lunch. Gorla and Countryman said their respective districts also work with parents and will offer payment plans in some cases.

“We know our families even who are paying are struggling,” Gorla said. "So we try to work with our families."

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