Schools in both the Cleveland City and Bradley County School systems are asking for fees to supplement individual school budgets.
Bradley County Director of Schools Johnny McDaniel said school fees are requested to cover the needed supplies a school system’s budget cannot cover.
“Even things people would probably think comes from central office, it does not,” McDaniel said.
While each county school is given some supplies at the beginning of the year, any additional items are paid for by the individual school’s operating budget, the county director explained.
McDaniel said it would be “a great world,” if schools did not have to ask for fees, but that is not the reality for any school system.
Additional funding is needed, but the school system cannot limit a student’s participation in a class due to a family’s inability to pay fees.
“All fees are requested. If you don’t pay, it does not mean you cannot participate, it just means it is absorbed. No child is going to be told no,” said Doug Moore, Cleveland City Schools public relations director.
“We ask. We do not require. That is the state rule,” McDaniel said.
A state attorney general’s opinion four years ago determined school fees could not be required.
Moore said the city school system does not ask students on the free and reduced lunch program to pay voluntary fees.
“Our percentage of students with free and reduced lunches is 60 percent,” Moore said.
Fees associated with extracurricular activities, such as clubs and athletics, may be mandatory. These fees are often covered through fundraising efforts.
A general fee for students in Bradley County high schools is $30. Moore said the general fee, also known as the “activities fee,” is $25 for city schools.
This fee offsets the cost of necessary items, like printer paper. Moore, who served as principal at E.L. Ross Elementary for 10 years, said printer paper is a major cost for schools. Money received from general fees often goes toward providing that supply and classroom materials for teachers.
“I buy a certain amount of copy paper and give it to the schools. Whatever they use beyond that, they have to fund it somehow,” McDaniel said.
Costs associated with field trips during regular school hours are also considered a voluntary fee by the state.
“If you are doing a field trip during school time, then no child has to pay for a field trip,” Moore said. “The middle school used to take a huge trip to (Washington), D.C. They would go on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and the weekend. It was about $700 to $800 per student and it was a great trip.”
According to Moore, the trip was cut due to an increasing number of students who could not foot the bill. The school was unable to supplement the overwhelming costs of so many students.
Revenues from class-specific fees are used to cover materials needed for the particular course. Principals approve all school fees within both systems.
One example of a class-specific fee is the $5 math fee requested at Cleveland High School to cover the cost of batteries for calculators, Moore said.
At Walker Valley High School, fees for freshman classes range from $5 to $20.
Department heads at each school determine most course-specific fees in Bradley County high schools.
The number of students served in a class cannot be limited by students’ inability to pay. These costs are absorbed into the schools’ budgets. However, limited school budgets may necessitate changes to the course if the school does not have enough funding to cover the supplies.