City School Board wary of after-school fee increases
The Charlottesville City School Board on Thursday voiced support for granting up to $20,000 from the school division’s operating budget to subsidize the cost of elementary afterschool programs.
“We want to make sure that we are providing unburdened support to our low-income working families,” said School Board member Sherry Kraft. “I think that is a principle that we care a lot about.”
Charlottesville’s CLASS afterschool program takes place daily from 2:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at elementary schools and three days a week at Walker Upper Elementary School. As of January, the program enrolled 448 full- or part-time students and had 37 students on a waitlist.
The monthly tuition for CLASS is based on a graded family-income scale and can range from $65 to $208. On Thursday, CLASS coordinator Bev Catlin proposed a 10 percent increase in fees for all income levels next year.
The CLASS program’s fee structure has not changed since it increased by 1.5 percent in 2013. “CLASS is always hesitant to increase fees because we recognize the impact it has on families,” Catlin said.
CLASS was chartered as a self-sustaining program, but its fund balance has been depleted rapidly since the School Board directed the program to cover expenses previously shouldered by the school division before the 2015-16 school year. The program is operating at a $109,516 deficit this year.
Catlin also recommended increasing the participation fee for Walker Upper Elementary School’s EDGE program, which sponsors 21 academic and recreational clubs for students. The clubs meet on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons in place of the CLASS afterschool program.
The EDGE program costs $20 per semester, but the fee is waived for students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Most EDGE club members are exempt from the fee this year.
The EDGE program’s expenditures for this year are projected at $24,554, far exceeding its $4,535 in projected revenues. Monies from the CLASS program fund balance have subsidized Walker’s EDGE clubs since 2012.
Catlin proposed making the EDGE clubs cost-neutral for the CLASS program by raising the fee to $40 per semester and covering the remaining costs with funding from the Charlottesville City Schools budget. Students receiving free or reduced-price lunch still would be exempt from the fee.
School Board member Adam Hastings noted that raising the participation fee for EDGE would generate only about $4,000 in added revenue.
“We would still only make a small dent in the overall deficit,” Hastings said. “I say, leave [the fee] alone.”
Catlin also recommended charging a nominal fee for the CLASS Full Day program, which takes children on field trips during three teacher workdays each year. She proposed a fee of $20, which would be reduced to $10 for families making less than $55,000 per year.
“When I signed up my child for the Full Day program, I was shocked when I didn’t see a charge at all,” said School Board member Amy Laufer. “But $10 could be significant for some families.”
School Board member Jennifer McKeever said she would support a graded pay scale for the Full Day Program. “I can’t imagine making a family with a $55,000 income pay the same amount as a family with a $20,000 income,” McKeever said.
Catlin said that the potential fee increases for the three after-school programs were advertised to families before a CLASS Parent Advisory Committee Meeting. However, no parents attended that meeting.
“I feel a little uncomfortable to be voting on this… when we have had no parent input,” Kraft told Catlin. “It’s frustrating, I know. You did your job to put it out there, and people didn’t show up.”
School Board Chairman Juandiego Wade directed Catlin and school budget director Kim Powell to present alternative fee structures for the afterschool programs for the School Board to vote on later this month.
School Board member Leah Puryear missed Thursday’s meeting to attend a funeral.