Monday, September 17, 2007

A "Super" Time Regarding Illegal Fees

3 1/2 years ago I first raised the issue of illegal fees with my principal. A year ago this past summer I elevated the issue to district level. Our new superintendent asked me to meet with my principal's boss and/or the district legal counsel, and if they couldn't resolve the issue to my satisfaction, that he'd meet with me.

Today I took him up on his offer.

My boss' boss and the district legal counsel both dismissed me, hoping I'd go away. The superintendent welcomed me today by saying that if nothing else, I win an award for persistence. I apologized for taking his time, telling him that his two underlings did him a disservice by refusing to address the issue with me, forcing him to take his time to do so.

It was a very pleasant half-hour. My limited experience with him, and from what I hear from others who have met with him, seem to jibe--he's a very well-meaning, good man. I sensed nothing but sincerity from him.

I certainly didn't point fingers at my principal or my school, as we both know this is a district-wide problem. I made sure to stress that I'm not on some crusade just to cause problems, that I address this problem from three different viewpoints:

1. As a teacher, who's a part of the system that's acting illegally. We enforce all sorts of rules on kids (no cell phones, no gum in class), so we should, as a minimum, abide by the law.
2. As a parent of a student who will be in junior high next year, and junior high is when such fees often start in earnest.
3. As a former high school student in a single-parent household, who couldn't have participated in a number of activities if we'd have had to pay for them.

I offered suggestions on how we might tackle the problem. I told him we don't even need to "eat the entire shark" at once--that we could address the most grievous offenses, fees in classes, first, and next year tackle fees for athletics and cheerleading. Our athletic directors should, however, start addressing the issue now.

I pointed out, though, that if we wait for a lawsuit, we'll lose, and then the fees will stop immediately by court order, throwing entire programs into chaos.

Yes, I compromised, meaning I wouldn't raise a stink if these fees went on for just a little longer as long as there's a plan for eliminating them as soon as possible with minimal chaos.

The next step is his. I'll keep you informed about what happens.


allen said...

Since it's a big book to read just to get to this point, Catch-22 states that you can do anything you aren't specifically forbidden to do.

I'd add that even that minor limitation only applies where there's someone to enforce the limitation.

Darren said...

Interesting enough, California law (5CCR350, for those of you so inclined) states that we can only charge those fees that are specifically authorized by law. If it's not in a law somewhere, we can't charge for it.

And we haven't even been abiding by that prohibition.

Scott McCall said...

While you're talking to him:


Anonymous said...

As a student at Rio, good job, Mr.Miller

Darren said...

De nada.

Some of you may not know this, but I'm *always* on your side.

Anonymous said...

You're a good man, Darren Miller!
You're a mentsch!!!

Mozel Tov!

Darren said...

I hope that's a compliment!

Coach Brown said...

Fine, but remember that parents aren't always up to understanding, or wanting to understand, the consequences of those decisions.

For instance, we charge a transportation fee (by selling raffle tickets) for the transportation costs to athletic events (and we are still tens of thousands in the hole). So the lawsuit occurs......what now? Forfeit all away games? Eliminate athletics altogether and go club sports, leaving only the wealthy schools the school based athletic teams? I'm all for following the letter of the law, but you better be prepared for the fire that comes with. Economic decisions, such as closing down schools, don't usually sit well with parents. They will believe what they want.

Darren said...

Coach, you almost sound like you support the illegal status quo. "Because we've always done it this way" and "because it's convenient/popular" don't sound like winning justifications for breaking the law to me.

Cameron said...

The reason that students are charged is because the school doesn't have enough money to pay for anything itself. Now, as I remember, Bush has been cutting the education budget for the past three years, at least. Schwarzenegger's allocated a lot of money for K-12, finally, although MY university tuition has skyrocketed.

So, the point I am making is this: If the federal government spent money on education, rather than costly departments like homeland security and the war, we would not have to even worry about paying for things in public schools.

I think the fees should be recommended, but not mandatory. Oh, wait, they already are! Isn't it true that the PTSA can pay for any student that is unable to pay? I know that my friend Richard was able to do that.

For the most part, the students of Rio come from wealthy families, and their payments help the school and keep them from going into more debt. The students unable or unwilling to pay are covered by the school if need be. I personally don't see what's wrong with that - if families are willing to spend money on their children and help their education and the school that they attend, what's the problem? The fact that there is a law against it shows that not all laws are 100% perfect, foolproof or just. The law should be changed. That's the best solution.

Don (no longer) Fluffy said...

It's a compliment, but the spelling leaves something to be desired.

Darren said...

Cameron, you are mistaken. Even though the feds shouldn't be involved in education at all, only about 7% of California's education budget comes from the feds--and the education budget under President Bush has risen faster than enrollment and inflation every year of his presidency.

You make the tired argument that you long for the day when schools have all the money they need and the air force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber. Take a look at what % of the federal budget the Defense Department takes up, what % it took when we weren't fighting wars (say, the 80s), and what % it took during the late 50s (only the Cold War going on). Also check out the % of federal spending on social programs, and tell me you still see things out of whack in the way you do.

And what's wrong with what you suggested? It's against the law. Until the law's changed, we need to abide by it. The district is a government agency--it should abide by the law!

Steve USMA '85 said...

Darren, I'm enjoying catching up on your old blogs while I take my hiatus from the Forum. Just curious, any update to this fee situation?

Darren said...

Just before he left our district for another job a few months ago, the superintendent followed through and the school board approved a Board Policy as well as an Administrative Regulation. These essentially restate the state laws that we've been ignoring for years, though, so it remains to be seen how much force they'll have.

I was heartened to hear, though, that the controller at our school put the word out that all such charges must be *voluntary*.

So there's been *some* movement. Time will tell how much.

Thanks for asking :-)