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Illegal Textbook Fees in Jeffco Schools

By Ron Tognetti

The voters in Jefferson County, in the latest election, soundly rejected the Jefferson County School Boards plea for the largest school tax increase in state history. Why? One of the most important reason was voter anger over much smaller taxes that the Jeffco School Board had imposed illegally. These taxes are the infamous “textbook fees” which have generated so much controversy.

Our states Constitution declares that no fees can be levied for books which are used in required public school classes. Thus, persons who respect legal restraints do not argue about whether the fees are “reasonable.” The fees are illegal. Period.

Let me state my interest in this whole question. My wife and I are parents of three children, two of which are school age. Our first experience with textbook and materials fees came in 1989 as one of our children entered public kindergarten. We objected on principle to paying them, and in a letter to the District criticized the practice of collecting fees.

For the next three years, as two of our children remained in Jeffco schools, we did not pay fees. This fall when we were once again presented with a bill for fees and materials. A momentary weakness allowed us to pay the fees to our son’s Senior High school.

It is important to note that over this span of years, none of the flyers, bulletins and announcements which enumerated the fees ever described them as anything but required. Now, the School Board claims that the fees were only voluntary, and only some renegade schools mislabeled payment of fees as mandatory. Odd that a School Board which seems so often seized and exercises control over each and every school in its empire (remember Boards decision to abolish Saxon math throughout the realm?) could not account for or reign in a few rascally administrators out on the hustlings.

The explanation for all these voluntary mandatory fees, set forth in an Oct. 7 letter by Jeffco School’s Roy Siegfried, shows just whats wrong with the school administration.

In 1989, states Mr. Siegfried, the district needed $11 million. Reduce costs? Identify any part of the non-teaching overhead to be cut? No, raise fees! Four years later the district “faced” another $24.5 million in budget cuts, so the district raised fees again. Why economize and redefine your mission, or rebuild operations around a low overhead – private school model when the Education god must be served?

In 1995, notes Mr. Siegfried, the District reduced textbook fees. But he plays the old saw of budget restraints which prevented the elimination of the fees. At relatively good times like these, Mr. Siegfried incredibly contrasts the collecting of $1.2 million in textbook fees with the expenditure of $7.3 million “on textbooks and learning materials.” This actually reads like a complaint, something like “see how much more we had to spend than we got.” Mr. Siegfried, what else should a school district spend it on?! What do you think you get all that property tax money for? Again, not a word about any effort to reduce bureaucratic, administrative, non-teaching overhead.

Even more incredible, the same tired conclusion and threat then oozes out : if fees aren’t collected, Mr. Siegfried concludes, more revenue will be needed or we’ll cut programs. The rest of the letter features remarks which imply that only those who don’t support “quality” education for the students would consider asking for a refund or not paying fees in the first place.

But in fact, the Colorado Constitution makes it very clear that true supporters of public schools shouldnt be trying to extort money from parents and students. The Colorado Constitution, which creates our system of public schools, mandates a “system of free public schools throughout the state, wherein all residents of the state, between the ages of six and twentyone years, may be educated gratuitously.” Every resident of this state is entitled to free and gratuitous public education. If the Jeffco school bureaucracy wants to collect fees from students, the bureaucrats should go work for a private school.

Ron Tognetti writes on education issues for the Independence Institute, an education reform think tank in Golden, which publishes report cards on all Colorado public schools, https://i2i.org.

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