Fees, costs for schools can add up, but how high?

It’s part of a delicate juggling act, officials say, an effort to keep the financial burden of public education for families still struggling in a sluggish economy

BY ADAM GOLDSTEIN, Staff Writer

AURORA | Steady rounds of budget cuts have put a financial strain on local school districts in the past five years, but that stress has yet to significantly impact fees for activities, materials and athletics.

Officials from the Aurora Public Schools and Cherry Creek School District insist that administrators have made an effort to keep

Gateway vs Northglenn Football

A Gateway football player downs his gear after the game Friday evening, Sept. 7 at Hinkley High School. Fees for activities, materials and athletics vary in both districts, but officials from Aurora Public Schools and Cherry Creek insist that students who can't afford the costs will never be denied access to sports, field trips or educational materials. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)

Gateway vs Northglenn Football

Gateway kicker David Hernandez leads a kickoff Friday evening, Sept. 7 at Hinkley High School. Fees for activities, materials and athletics vary in both districts, but officials from Aurora Public Schools and Cherry Creek insist that students who can't afford the costs will never be denied access to sports, field trips or educational materials. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)

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Teachers and students walk through the halls of Aurora Central High School, Thursday afternoon, Aug. 23 near Peoria Street and East 11th Avenue. Fees for activities, materials and athletics vary in both districts, but officials from Aurora Public Schools and Cherry Creek insist that students who can't afford the costs will never be denied access to sports, field trips or educational materials. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)

Mill Levy

Freshman Dulce Regalado Contreras writes down notes during class Thursday afternoon, Aug. 23 at Aurora Central High School. Fees for activities, materials and athletics vary in both districts, but officials from Aurora Public Schools and Cherry Creek insist that students who can't afford the costs will never be denied access to sports, field trips or educational materials. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)

activities and materials accessible to all students, regardless of economic background. At APS, for example, teachers at the elementary school level have been instructed to keep a $25 cap on the materials lists distributed to students. At Cherry Creek, fees associated with athletics and extracurricular activities have remained constant for the past eight years.

It’s part of a delicate juggling act, officials say, an effort to keep the financial burden of public education for families still struggling in a sluggish economy.

“Students are not charged for any electives. There could be charges for field trips, or fees, or transportation. If a student can’t pay it, they’re not barred from participating,” said Tustin Amole, a spokeswoman with the Cherry Creek School District. “The fees that we now have in place have been in place for at least eight years. We have not had to have that conversation yet about raising those fees.”

Even so, the cumulative effect of those existing costs can be significant for parents with multiple children enrolled in public schools. At Cherry Creek, the standard fee for a student involved in one sport at the high school level is $90 and the standard cost for an extracurricular activity is $35; at the middle school level, the athletic fee is $60 and the activity fee is $30. At APS, athletic fees are $60 for students in high school and $33 for students in middle school. Graphing calculators and other materials required for upper level math and science courses in high school can carry high prices, and the cost of field trips and other extracurricular activities can fall to parents as well. Anything from formal dress clothes for a student’s choir performance that can run $60 or more to a new $6 recorder for an elementary school band class can add to the cost of school for parents and students, tolls that fall outside the range of formal activity fees collected at the beginning of a semester.

But school officials say that structures are in place to lessen the onus for families. For example, both districts implement a cap on athletic fees for single students involved in multiple sports or for families who have more than one child involved in athletics.

“Our fees in Aurora for athletics are among the lowest in the metro area. We rely on those fees … for our operating expenses. It’s about 50 percent of our operating expenses,” said Tony Antolini, athletic director for APS. Antolini added that there is a maximum fee for individual students and for families. “Typically what we do is we try to work with the parents. One of the first things we offer is a payment plan. Many times, when we spread that payment out, it helps.

“We’re not going to disallow any student from play athletics because of their financial status,” he added.

Similar caps exist at Cherry Creek, Amole said.

“No one is denied the right to play,” Amole said. “The schools have booster clubs, the PTOs have funds. There will be a way.”

ShaShauna Staton, the mother of an 8-year-old 3rd grader at Murphy Creek Elementary School, said teachers and school employees make an effort to cover the costs of materials and extra curricular activities for parents. For example, the school’s music class requires students to buy a $6 recorder, an instrument school officials will pay for if parents are unable to pay. What’s more, parents were able to buy school materials directly through the school to align with the APS policy of a $25 cap.

“They do try to compensate for a lot of the people who can’t afford it,” Staton said, adding that some extracurricular activities with outside organizations like the YMCA can carry a bigger cost. “They do it through the school. Those are kind of out of control … Those aren’t things that I really need. I was thinking more along the lines of two parents that are working. That’s a lot for them.”

Students involved in clubs and organizations are allowed to organize fundraising effort, APS officials said. When it comes to materials, the efforts to keep costs reasonable comes in distributing books, calculators and other necessary tools that are owned by the individual schools.

“In general, we teachers aren’t permitted to charge students for textbooks and things that are required for day-to-day instruction for the classroom,” said William Stuart, Deputy Superintendent at APS. “We do in some cases charge for expendable materials,” he said, but added that in the case of expensive graphing calculators, “that becomes part of a school supply list. We’ve done a good job of having those available for (high school) kids.

“If a student is eligible for free or reduced lunch … anything related to an academic fee would be waived,” Stuart said. “We work very hard to try to maintain a reasonable fee structure for families.”

Reach reporter Adam Goldstein at agoldstein@aurorasentinel.com or 720-449-9707

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