By MATT BLOIS
Each year Williamson County Schools asks the families of its students to contribute money, if possible, to pay for the supplies used in class. Those fees are totally voluntary for academic classes and don’t prevent students from taking classes, but are usually required for extracurricular activities like sports or band.
The district uses the money to buy supplies for students it couldn’t afford otherwise. School board member Anne McGraw said the fees bring in about $1 million every year. She said the fees are a great example of what can happen to a school district that doesn’t receive enough funding.
“I believe this used to be a temporary measure … and it’s now become the norm, where we expect parents to contribute towards their child’s academic curriculum materials,” she said.
Schools are allowed to ask for up to $100 per student to help cover the cost of programs that are open to all students such as computer labs or counseling departments. Schools can only ask parents to pay $3 for a speech class, but can ask for up to $135 for an advanced placement studio art class—the most expensive voluntary fee.
Superintendent Mike Looney explained that the district has used the fees to plug budget gaps in the past.
“The fee is established to help make up for the deficit we have in classrooms to provide basic learning material,” he said.
Students that want to participate in many sports or arts programs have to pay a fee to participate. Most golfers will have to pay $300, while cheerleaders and dancers will have to pay $200. A $250 fee for marching band pays for uniforms, equipment, transportation and other materials.
Students that can’t come up with the fee don’t get to participate in those specific activities. However, those groups can raise money to pay for students that can’t come up with the fee. McGraw said in her experience, school principals can often find a way to pay for students to participate in these activities.
“I feel comfortable that there are efforts being made to let those kids participate,” she said. “We are a generous community.”
The board approved the voluntary fees for the next school year. Schools are not required to ask parents to chip in, and the amounts approved by the board are the maximum that schools can ask for.