Attending public school has become less expensive for students in the Wallowa School District.
Officials there announced that thanks to smart financial management on the part of the school board and former superintendent Bret Uptmor, the district will not be charging fees.
“Bret Uptmor and the board created opportunities in the budget to account for changes, and over the years all the accounts have become more stable and that creates latitude,” said Supt. Jay Hummel. “It’s a (financial) choice, there’s no doubt, but it’s our choice to put kids and families first.”
Hummel and the school board will transfer approximately $13,000 from the general fund supply account to pay the fees.
“We saw that some families were having to come up with $200 to $300 to get their kids ready for elementary school,” Hummel said. “Now, those long lists of things that parents must purchase before school starts no longer exist.”
The schools have also absorbed “pay for play” fees ($55 per sport in high school and $25 per sport in Jr. High); activity cards, which every student pays for to help fund a variety of activities; and shop fees of approximately $30 per class for High School and $15 per class for Jr. High.
“We’re working with teachers and coaches to make sure they have what they need, too,” Hummel said.
The move has elicited praise from Oregon Department of Education.
“I applaud the schools and districts that have eliminated fees and the commitment they have made to equity,” said Andrea Morgan, education specialist with the department.
“As Oregon works to combat chronic absenteeism, it is important that districts recognize the barriers fees place upon many students. If students must pay fees for athletic teams, extra-curricular activities, social event attendance and classes, many students will be pushed out.”
She said for some families the argument that “it’s only $10,” means that some families must give up food, transportation or electricity to pay the fee.
Both Joseph and Enterprise schools are keeping their fee schedule.
Joseph charges a fee for participation in athletics, associated student body, art class, family and consumer class and shop class. The athletic participation fee is $25.
Enterprise charges elementary students a “student registration” fee, and high schoolers pay a $30 “student body fee,” a fee for a physical education uniform and fees for sports participation as well as classes such as chemistry and physics, art and vocational agriculture.
Morgan said under Oregon law, schools are allowed to charge fees; however, students must be admitted to school free of charge if they are between the ages of 5 and 19 and live in the district.
“Low-income families, and others with financial need, must have opportunities to request fees be waived,” Morgan said.
All students may apply for free or reduced-price meals through the school districts.
SCHOOL DAYS RETURN
• Enterprise students will be back in the classroom Tuesday, Sept. 4. Students in K-6 will attend for a full day. Those 7-12 will be released at noon.
• Joseph Charter Schools swing into action Monday, Aug. 27.
• Opening bells will ring at Wallowa Public Schools Monday, Aug. 27.