Fee or no fee - that's OPRF's $340 question

School could charge families $340 per kid for books, materials starting in '11-'12

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By Terry Dean

Staff reporter

Parents with kids attending Oak Park and River Forest High School will be required to pay a $340 per-student fee for books and materials starting in the upcoming school year if a proposal submitted last month to the school board is approved. The fee would replace the wide-ranging out-of-pocket textbook costs which most parents now pay.

There is pushback, though, from at least one school board member on the proposal. Sharon Patchak-Layman has questioned if the fee would pass legal muster. She also believes the fee shifts costs for textbooks for OPRF families unable to pay for books from a now discontinued state textbook subsidy program onto other local families. Patchak-Layman says the school district should carry those costs from its general fund.

Currently, families spend varying amounts for books and materials for their kids depending on specific courses being taken. The fee proposal was set for a vote at the board's Feb. 24 regular meeting but was pulled from the agenda hours before the meeting's start.

It was also discussed by the board's finance committee on Feb. 15, where Patchak-Layman raised questions about moving to a fee model and whether the high school could legally do that. Cheryl Witham, OPRF's chief financial officer, told Wednesday Journal this week that the school's attorney was looking into the legal question but has yet to find anything preventing the school from imposing a fee.

Witham expects to bring the proposal back, and with questions answered, to the finance committee March 15. It would then be put on the agenda for a vote at the school board's March 24 regular meeting. But if it's not approved then, Witham said the school won't be able to implement the fee for the 2011-2012 school year.

Witham said the school was looking for a more efficient and cost-effective model for distributing instructional materials. Under the current model, some students spend upwards of $500 for books while other students spend much less than that. On average, OPRF families pay about $350 for books and materials, according to Witham.

Another factor, she said, for going to a fee model was the elimination of a state-funded textbook loan program that provided money to school districts. OPRF typically received around $200,000 from the program about every other year. According to information on the Illinois State Board of Election's website, that breaks down to $40 per pupil for school districts (http://webprod.isbe.net/TextbookLoanProgram/faq1.aspx).

The state program was cut last year. With that subsidy gone, Witham said OPRF parents would end up paying about $100 more for books and materials beginning next school year. She maintained that the fee's main goal is to reduce the financial burden already placed on parents.

"Our goal has always been to make this much more efficient and to reduce costs for everyone. And it makes sense for families because those amounts are different every year and they don't know how much they're really going to pay until they get in line [at the bookstore]," she said. "We want to make sure kids have all their supplies and are choosing classes based on their interest versus how much they have to pay."

But Patchak-Layman says she also opposes the fee because it's unfair to those families who typically don't receive a waiver to help pay for textbooks.

Low-income students who qualify for free and reduced lunch normally receive a textbook waiver. Under the fee model, those students still would not have to pay for books and materials. But Patchak-Layman insists that the school should ditch plans for a fee and bear the cost itself. Otherwise, parents, she said, who normally don't qualify for a waiver will be paying for their kids' books plus for those who normally would qualify for a waiver.

"Fee waiver students should be paid for out of the general fund—it's the district's responsibility," Patchak-Layman said.

But other board members don't share all of her concerns.

John Allen, a co-chair of the finance committee, said he supports the fee model because it's fair to all parents in having to pay one set amount.

"My concern is about how much parents have to pay for books. I think they should pay less and this accomplishes that," he said.

Board member Amy McCormack, who also chairs the finance committee, said the fee proposal makes financial sense for families and the high school. She also noted that amounts paid by parents for books are usually "all over the board."

"The high school and Cheryl, I believe, made a good faith effort to come up with the best solution for instruction in the long run," McCormack said.

Allen and McCormack agreed that the school should look into the legality of imposing a fee but maintained their support for going to that model.

Reader Comments

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Mom2 from Oak Park  

Posted: March 8th, 2011 9:19 PM

I'm not sure what happened to Vince his senior year, but none of my kids spent anywhere near that kind of money on books, including those for AP classes. Generally between $200-300 total before buy-backs. Vince would have to have spent over $200 per class! A quick look at the OPRF Bookstore booklist for 2010-2011 shows a couple of new books over $100 (psych, sociology, art kits, anthropology) but most are quite a bit less.

OPRF Achievment Gap  

Posted: March 7th, 2011 3:08 PM

Sounds like a great idea. Smooth out the costs. However, missing all the data in order to determine if this is even close....as many others have pointed out. Sounds like OPRF CFO is factoring in the fixed costs of running a bookstore. What she is TRYING to do is pass on those costs in a fee - to leave more for benifits. If I am wrong - would love to see the facts. Also, as others have pointed out - the trend is ebooks. Why not ride the innoviation cloud - rather that be dragged to it.


Posted: March 4th, 2011 1:05 PM

If you drive a car, I'll tax the street. If you drive to city, I'll tax your seat. If you get too cold, I'll tax the heat. If you take a walk, I'll tax your feet.

Vince from DC - Oak Park Native  

Posted: March 3rd, 2011 1:27 AM

For my senior year in high school at OPRF in 2009, my books cost over $1,000! I took all AP and Honors classes and many of the books were new books that ended up not being eligible for buy-back. If anything, such exorbitant prices deter families from encouraging their kids to take higher level courses. In college, I have yet to meet any other student who went to a public or private high school who had to buy their books. I also have yet to spend anywhere near $1,000 on books in university.


Posted: March 2nd, 2011 6:18 PM

I'd like to see the BOE look at more progressive and innovative ways for our teens to have textbooks. I like Chet's idea for kindles or maybe ipads. I hate seeing our teens walking to school with 20-30 pounds of books on their backs.

chet21 from Oak Park  

Posted: March 2nd, 2011 1:01 PM

Pt. 2. My experience is that the OPRF manager is very, very good and has made efforts to provide info so that book purchases can be made elsewhere (which we've done), but perhaps OPRF/Community need to start thinking outside the box? Kindle? Privatize (Book Table?)? Do it the "college way" and, as noted by "HS Parent," set up something with Amazon? I also think that their $340 was deliberately set on high side. I know that other districts do "flat rate," but this high? OPRF is not an island.

chet21 from Oak Park  

Posted: March 2nd, 2011 12:51 PM

PT.1 Jassen, I'm guessing that the $340 was derived by taking the overall sum of the cost of running book store and dividing it by the presumed non-free student body. College or HS - NEW books are a lot - as "OPRF parent" attests (Kindle?). But we always return the books and the sum is greatly reduced. Also, many books are free (state loaners). Jassen, didn't understand your last sentence AND, BTW, thanks for anon compliment - like Jassen, I try AND, fortunately, have a thick skin - but my kids?

Mary Ellen Eads from Oak Park  

Posted: March 2nd, 2011 10:40 AM

From what I am reading, a little internet research on textbooks would result in considerable savings. If Oak Parkers are now expected to pay substantial fees to help others who supposedly can't afford the texts, what is the incentive for the latter to look for bargains. Another bad idea from Oak Park's left-leaning decision-makers for whom, apparently, money doesn't matter. The more and higher fees and taxes, the better. It's for our own good, after all.

HS Parent  

Posted: March 2nd, 2011 10:18 AM

So many textbooks are available at used prices - Amazon, Alibri, just google used textbooks and you have many options - I have gotten textbooks for under $5 plus then the ability to "pay it forward" and pass those used books on to other future students.

OPRF parent  

Posted: March 2nd, 2011 10:17 AM

I paid almost $300 for my freshman and almost $600 for my sophomore. Part of the problem this year was most of the used books were gone already by the time we got there.

Jassen Strokosch from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: March 2nd, 2011 10:08 AM

@chet21 - any idea on what the huge difference is between their $340 average they are using and what your experience has been? I don't have a kid at OPRF yet and things have changed a lot since I was there. Out of curiosity,when you it isn't even close, are you talking $25 or off by a huge factor like $150. Thanks.

Thanks Chet  

Posted: March 2nd, 2011 9:44 AM

Chet, I know this is off topic, but I and some other readers would like to thank you for your contribution on other forums. We hate that posters piled on you on another forum. Trust me, there are tons of people who feel as you do and for reasons already listed, do not want to speak out, but will be voting no. We appreciate and support you for speaking up!

chet21 from Oak Park  

Posted: March 2nd, 2011 8:51 AM

1 kid still at OPRF and 1 in college - have NEVER paid a sum even close to $340 for their books. This is NOT factoring in money/credit received when books were "sold back." And they had full class loads and AP courses. I fully support "user fees," but now I'm paying for the books for others?!? What if our income is $50 above "free books"? $500? "One size fits all" seems simple in theory, but in practice? I'm eager to hear what others have to say. Thanks.

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