‘How much we charge, it’s a fine line’; School board approves 2019-20 fee schedule, policy changes

Washington County School District's Board of Education members at a meeting in St. George, Utah, May 14, 2019 | Photo by Markee Heckenliable, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — In conjunction with legislation that passed this year, the Washington County School Board of Education approved changes to its school fee policy, as well as the amount of fees it will charge during the 2019-20 school year.

The board unanimously approved both the fee schedule and policy changes Tuesday night in order to comply with new policy changes from the Utah State Board of Education. The board voted to pursue all recommendations to public school fees from its School Fee Task Force in December.

The task force was charged with improving the way Utah schools approve, collect, waive and manage school fees after multiple concerns were brought to the board’s attention, which resulted in two audits finding violations to the state’s policy.

Read more: After violations and concerns are found, Utah school board pursues recommendations on school fees

Among those violations were lack of transparency, absence of control and oversight of fees from both local and state education leaders and inequitable access to school-sponsored events and activities.

House Bill 250, also known as School Fee Revisions, was passed in March and will take effect July 1. It requires the state board to take certain actions against local education agencies that fail to comply with fee provisions, such as suspending a school or district’s right to charge fees. It also requires that governing school boards hold at least two opportunities for the public to comment on proposed fee schedules.

The proposed school fee schedule for Washington County was discussed during multiple board meetings in the past couple of months. Richard Holmes, assistant superintendent of secondary education, presented the proposed policy changes and fee schedule to the board Tuesday night.

“How much we charge, it’s a fine line… because part of the pushback, the reason why we had state legislative action, was they were saying that there’s too many fees,” he said. “Parents were pushing back saying, ‘It’s expensive.’

Under the state board’s policy, which will take effect Jan. 1, 2020, the state allows local education agencies to decide the maximum allowable fee for classes and programs, as long as the fees don’t exceed the actual cost for items purchased.

In a March 5 board meeting, Brent Bills – business administrator for the Washington County School District – suggested that the board keep curricular costs low, while co-curricular and extracurricular costs could be a little higher.

Besides changing legal verbiage to match state law, the most significant change the school board approved was in regard to acceptable documentation for fee waivers. Instead of verifying income, a student or student’s family may request a fee waiver if they have documentation of the following:

The district’s School Fees/Solicitation of Funds policy, as well as the 2019-20 school fee schedule, can be viewed on the district’s website.

“We will adjust in the year to come or the following year, as the legislation continues to change or develop,” Holmes said, “we hope in our favor or in the schools’ favor or district’s favor.”

In addition to approving changes to school fees, the board also unanimously approved changes to the district’s Safe Schools Policy. The changes include the presence of threatening behavior on social media platforms.

According to the policy, threatening behavior that poses an immediate threat to the safety of students or school personnel include hazing, bullying, emotionally demeaning or assaultive behavior, physical violence and physical or sexual harassment. That behavior is now subject to discipline if it occurs on social media.

Officials from the Washington County School District hand out certificates and bells to educators retiring, St. George, Utah, May 14, 2019 | Photo by Markee Heckenliable, St. George News

Another change to the Safe Schools Policy is in regard to parents providing written consent for threat assessments.

“If parents do not provide written consent for an assessment of a student deemed to have engaged in Threatening Behavior, WCSD will make a determination regarding appropriate interventions and/or placement based on the information available at the time,” the change to the policy states.

The school board also discussed the district’s proposed budget for 2019-20, which will be subject to changes before the board votes on it this summer. The board also honored 39 educators who are retiring this year, as well as educators who have given 20-40 years of teaching or service in Washington County.

Email: mheckenliable@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews | @markeekaenews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

 

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