Frankly, I was disappointed in the article. I'd think that catching your school doing something blatantly illegal would be a big deal to a budding journalist--this is even better than rats in the proverbial rats in the cafeteria--but the article was tepid at best. We're clearly violating state law; I provided them with several pages of documents from the state Department of Education, documents which clearly identify what schools can and cannot charge for. Yet, most of the article focused on what classes would have to be cancelled if we stopped breaking the law. So much for thinking outside the box.
I'll post a link if they ever publish the newspaper online, as was done in the past.
The school paper was distributed last Friday. Yesterday, the major Sacramento newspaper had a prominently placed story (front page of the local Metro section) about the very same issue, illegal fees, in a nearby district. The article in the Sacramento newspaper was more pointed than the one in my school paper, a fact that genuinely distresses me. These kids are being treated illegally, and they barely give a shrug!
How do I know this is illegal? I checked with the legal department of the state Department of Education, which sent me a "fiscal advisory" memorandum, several pages long, outlining what schools can charge for and what they cannot. It seemed pretty clear.
Here's the Sacramento newspaper article:
Booster club, parent battle in Folsom
Mother gets back the $4,000 she paid for band participation in a fight with big implications.By Walter Yost -- Bee Staff Writer
Published 3:15 am PDT Sunday, April 2, 2006
Story appeared in Metro section, Page B1
For the past three years, Donna Kinsella has argued that students shouldn't have to pay dues to participate in Folsom High School band programs.
In March, a Sacramento small claims court awarded Kinsella several thousand dollars in damages, an amount equal to what Kinsella has paid for her children to take part in the high school's various bands.
Kinsella's victory may have impact far beyond the approximately $4,000 she won. The school district is appealing her award and a Southern California legal group is interested in her case.Potentially at stake are the donations or dues - depending on one's viewpoint - that public schools use to fund a raft of extracurricular activities.
"It's not about the money at all," Barry Vroom, president of the Folsom Music Boosters, said of the small claims court award.
"My personal concern is if it has ramifications for booster programs around the state," he said.
To Kinsella, the judge's decision is a vindication of her efforts to convince school officials at the district, county and state level that charging fees for extracurricular activities is illegal. She said she turned to the court system after no one else would help.
"It's about our rights and protecting our children's rights," the mother of three said. "We pay for our children's education in taxes. To bill us (for extracurricular activities) results in double taxation."
For the Folsom Cordova Unified School District and its music boosters, co-defendants in the case, the court judgment proves no such thing.
"It's our opinion that the judge did not review the state education code regarding this issue," said Mindy Nunes, assistant superintendent of administrative services for the district.
The booster organization, which helps support the nationally renowned music program, has maintained that what Kinsella calls dues are really voluntary contributions, necessary to help pay for field trips to music events.
The boosters and the school district have filed an appeal scheduled to be heard May 19 in Sacramento Superior Court.
"It is important for our image. We don't think we've done anything wrong," said Vroom, the boosters president.
"Without the boosters, the (music) program would be only two concerts per year. We now have at least four field trips per year and we put in thousands and thousand of dollars."
At issue is interpretation of education code sections referencing the authorization of student fees.
According to the co-defendants' trial brief, although the code stipulates that no child shall be prevented from making a field trip or excursion because of lack of sufficient funds, it further states "the governing board shall coordinate efforts of community service groups to supply funds for pupils in need of them."
The brief argues that the Folsom Music Boosters act as the safety net for the district by providing scholarships to any student unable or unwilling to pay for a field trip.
"The district can't provide those funds," Nunes said. "There are times when you have to charge for activities."
But Kinsella also cites state law to support her arguments.
"You cannot charge for curricular or extracurricular activities. You can only ask for voluntary donations," she said.
According to Kinsella, the boosters have made their payment notices look like mandatory bills, not donation requests. She cited the use of words such as "fees" and "dues" in the notices.
Vroom and Nunes said changes have been made to clarify the language by emphasizing the word "donations."
About 450 students are involved in Folsom High's music programs, which include a marching band and color guard, jazz band and jazz choir, orchestra, symphony and concert bands.
Vroom said no child has been denied participation in the music program because of an inability to pay and that in some cases scholarships have been provided.
Kinsella's case is being watched by Richard Ackerman, an attorney with the United States Justice Foundation, a conservative legal action organization based in Southern California.
The foundation has taken part in a number of actions against school districts over what it says are unconstitutional fees. Last year, Ackerman threatened to file a class-action lawsuit against the Folsom Cordova district on Kinsella's behalf.
Kinsella said this week she is no longer connected with Ackerman and has hired a local attorney to represent her.
In the meantime, despite Kinsella's award in small claims court, Vroom said no one else has asked the boosters for their money back.
About the writer:
- The Bee's Walter Yost can be reached at (916) 608-7449 or firstname.lastname@example.org.