Student rates

Lawrence School Board’s proposed student device fee would apply to everyone regardless of income, administrator says – The Lawrence Times

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There’s a difference between a college student throwing an iPad across the room and breaking its screen versus the charging port on a student’s four-year-old device that just doesn’t work anymore. Members of the Lawrence School Board posed several questions to district staff Monday about issues of this nature as they begin discussions about possible tuition changes for next year.

In particular, board members focused on damage to devices that is intentional, accidental, or part of normal wear and tear. The proposed device damage charges would apply to everyone, regardless of family income.

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Monday’s board business session was expected to start a conversation about potential tuition changes ahead of a July meeting where they will actually vote on the matter.

There is currently no annual fee for devices issued to each student. Students’ families pay basic fees for transportation to and from field trips and for books, materials, and technology. The base fee is approximately $110 for grades K-5 and $162 for grades 6-12. Additional fees come with a student’s participation in additional activities.

Students who qualify for free or reduced-price meals are not assessed on those fees, according to a board presentation from Cynde Frick, the district’s executive director of finance.

The proposed device fee could change that.

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Zach Conrad, outgoing director of data and technology, provided the board with a comparison of fees and device protection plans from different districts.

For next year, Lawrence School District administrators have proposed an annual fee for student devices. These fee structures would be as follows for students who pay full price for meals, students who qualify for discounted meals, and those who qualify for free meals, respectively:

The fee for high school students, who receive Macbooks, would be $40, $25, or $0;

The fee for college students, who receive iPads, would be $30, $15, or $0.

Conrad said elementary students don’t usually take their devices home, so administrators didn’t recommend applying the fee to those students, although he said they could.

This fee schedule could generate around $171,000, according to Conrad’s presentation.

Conrad said there were also about $85,000 in lost accessories, chargers, cords and other items that had to be paid for from the district general fund. For perspective, the board recently cut $6.41 million from the general fund budget, which included 90 staff positions, largely to cover a budget shortfall for the 2022-23 school year.

Lawrence School Board Vice President Shannon Kimball, left, asks a question during a tuition work session, June 13, 2022. Board member Kay Emerson is right. (Screenshot / $497 YouTube)

Lawrence School Board Vice President Shannon Kimball asked if the district charges students for these items.

“We do; we rarely collect on those,” Conrad said.

“…So, is the reason we’re not collecting that $85,000 that we’re not doing a good job of keeping records when we turn the devices over?” Kimball asked.

Conrad said “that’s definitely part of it.”

“So it looks like we have to change that,” Kimball said. Conrad replied that “we are working on it”.

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The projected cost of appliance repairs for the 2023-2024 school year is $200,000 to $250,000. The district currently charges families a flat rate for “intentional” damage to devices – $75 for Macbook damage and $40 for iPad damage.

Under the new proposal — though Conrad said board members could make changes — the charges for device damage would be as follows for everyone, regardless of family income:

High school damages would be $50 for the first event, $100 for the second event, and $850 — the full cost of the device — for the third event.

Damages to the college would be $40 for the first event, $80 for the second event, and $299 – the full cost of the device – for the third event.

Several board members expressed concerns about the distinction between “intentional” damage. Conrad said it’s up to school administrators to make those decisions.

“We find that this language is confusing and there’s a lot of variance in how it’s applied,” Conrad said.

Board members asked directors to provide more clarity on these types of issues. Board of Trustees President Erica Hill said if a student’s iPad slipped from their hands and was damaged in this way, it wasn’t necessarily intentional, but it wasn’t a normal wear and tear, for example.

Board member Kay Emerson said that “as a working parent,” $850 for a third claim is a lot, and she hopes the district might consider financial hardship waivers for expenses like that.

Board members will make their final tuition decisions at their July 11 meeting.

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Mackenzie Clark (her), journalist/founder of the Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com or 785-422-6363. Read more about his work for The Times here. Check out his staff biography here.

More coverage of Lawrence Public Schools:

August Rudisell/The Lawrence Times

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