Unpaid fines, fees impact Issaquah schools

June 25, 2013

By Neil Pierson

Issaquah School District officials aren’t overly concerned with the number of items students failed to return when the school year ended, but the financial cost to the district — reaching into six figures — is a burden of sorts.

The district reports students owe more than $143,000 in unpaid fines and fees as of June 14. Thousands of students haven’t returned things like textbooks and uniforms, and others owe money for things like using classroom materials, damaging school property and collecting parking tickets.

The largest amount racked up among the district’s 24 schools is at Issaquah High School. The June 14 report from IHS claimed $38,275 in unpaid fines and fees, although the school’s bookkeeper said the number swelled to more than $42,000 because the due date for textbooks was June 20.

Issaquah High bookkeeper Jeri Justice said she looks closely at supply inventories when school lets out in June and again in August before students return.

Of the 24,000 books in the school’s bookroom, about 1,400 are missing. That represents less than 6 percent of the total inventory, a number Justice said is “not that bad.”

The books aren’t inexpensive, in many cases, ranging up to $168 for an algebra and trigonometry textbook. If a school doesn’t have enough books to teach a course, they’re stuck with the cost.

“If we can get them back when they’re overdue, then we don’t need to replace them,” Justice said. “It’s hard for teachers to teach when they don’t have books.

“We’re getting books back every day, so these numbers change every day. If they’re seniors, their transcripts don’t get to their prospective colleges. So, that’s good incentive to get them paid or get them found.”

School district policy states that “a student’s grades, transcripts or diploma may be withheld until restitution is made by payment or the equivalency through voluntary work.” Students and their parents may appeal a fine or fee to the superintendent and school board.

Additionally, a student who transfers to another district will not have his or her official transcript sent to the new school until the charges are paid. However, Issaquah schools will release records relating to academic performance and disciplinary violations to another district.

Issaquah’s four high schools top the list for most money owed per building. Issaquah High is followed by Liberty ($28,268), Skyline ($15,411) and Tiger Mountain Community ($11,344).

At Beaver Lake Middle School, students owed $4,518 on June 14. Bookkeeper Debi Rapozo said the amount had decreased to less than $4,000 last week, but the amount isn’t inconsequential to the school.

Any fines that aren’t paid roll over into the following year and impact the school’s budget, Rapozo said.

“The more money we collect, obviously, the more money we’re able to have for our school and the students in it,” she said.

Sara Niegowski, the district’s executive director of communication, explained that fines are different from fees. Fines relate to money owed to the district, while fees relate to items placed on an account and may or may not need to be paid.

For example, Niegowski said, a child may be charged a fee for a field trip, but if they don’t go on the trip, the fee is removed. In other instances, a fee may eventually turn into a fine, like if a student doesn’t pay a fee before a class starts.

Students who can’t pay fees because of financial hardship are typically given help. At Issaquah High, Justice said, the school’s parent-based “angel program” gave $5,000 last winter to cover fees in culinary arts, music and other classes.

“What they give us usually covers every request we have,” Justice said.

 

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