Monday, August 14, 2006

Mounting school fees taking toll on Southland parents

The following article appeared on the Students First website and in the Daily Southtown newspaper. When will we finally stand up and just say
no? How long are we going to put up with this? School districts are walking all over us. The richer they become the more powerful they become. What kind of future are we leaving our children and our neighbors children? Do not think that passing a referendum is the solution, the same tactics and threats will continue as our districts rate of spending outpaces revenue. Fee increases and referenda will not cease. They won't stop; they're already pressuring legislators into income tax increases. Once passed, the spending will increase and referendum cycle will continue. Think it won't happen? History has proven it time and time again. What drives a person to pay 2,500 dollars to 10,000 dollars in property taxes for schools and accept without resistance registration fees, books fees, etc?

Mounting school fees taking toll on Southland parents


By Angela Caputo
Daily Southtown

Students at Oak Lawn Community High School grabbed their books, maps of the school and new identification cards at registration.

But their parents were left to do the heavy lifting - picking up the tab for school fees, which essentially doubled this year.

"Now I've got to figure out a way to pay for it," Colleen Lesko said after getting the $1,568 bill for her three teens to attend school.

Even with a two-income household - she drives a school bus and her husband is a mechanic - they don't exactly have that kind of cash lying around.

Lesko's bill included $300 registration fees and $75 technology fees for each student plus between $15 and $25 per class that require workbooks and other class materials.

Last year students were charged $150 to register and a $50 technology fee.

The Leskoes may divert some money from a home equity loan they recently took out to rebuild their garage to cover the fees, which are at least $100 per student more than in neighboring districts.

The family is bracing for even more back-to-school expenses: Daughter Amanda Eversole, 16, is in theater productions, on the color guard squad, the forensics team and in the choir, all of which have extra expenses.

And her sons Ken, 15, and Josh, 14, are always needing new athletic gear and school supplies, which add up quickly.

"(With each activity) it's $20 here and more money there. It never stops," Lesko said.

The higher fees are expected to give the district a $420,000 boost, which will help trim the deficit to $2.1 million this year.

The school board is expected to vote Wednesday on whether to ask voters in November to approve a tax rate increase.

The proposal likely will mirror a referendum question that taxpayers overwhelmingly rejected last spring. That measure asked voters to pay, on average, an additional $102 a year for a $200,000 home.

If the referendum were to pass, it would bring in an additional $2.3 million to offset the district's annual deficit.

"Next time not only will fees be impacted but we're going to see some major cuts," Supt. Jim Briscoe said.

"Everything would be considered."

Teachers, extra-curricular activities and the number of courses offered could be affected.

Maureen McLaughlin said she's not thrilled with the $990 bill to register her two daughters, Emily and Cathleen Litz.

But she prefers it to a property tax increase.

"I'll pay the fees," she said. "Other people shouldn't have to pay for them to go to school."

Even with some cutbacks, McLaughlin isn't worried her daughters, who are honor-roll students, will meet her ultimate expectation of going on to college.

"You can't have everything you want," she said. "If you have to cut stuff, you have to cut stuff."

Kate O'Brien has a hard time saying "no" when it comes to making sure her three teens have more than just the school basics.

Even if it means running a tab on her credit card, she said.

After dropping nearly $1,500 on registration fees this week, O'Brien bought three yearbooks, two sets of school pictures and gym clothes for her 17-year-old daughter Claire, and sons Conor, 16, and Christopher, 14.

She also joined the booster club and the PTA, which brought her bill to $1,607.

O'Brien admits she could have cut corners in the registration line or told her kids "no" to joining some extra-curricular activities.

"But that's the kind of stuff you want to do for your kids," she said.

If the referendum question makes it on the November ballot, O'Brien, who is a teacher, said she'll support it. But like most Oak Lawn residents, she isn't excited about it.

In light of the new fees, Lesko said she's tapped out already and has had enough.

"Give us all a break," she said. "Granted they're getting an education, but do we have to go poor for it?"

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