This is Wrong – $5 Freshman Orientation Fee (updated)

From Johnny Burrito's Ugly Money (click for more).

From Johnny Burrito's Ugly Money (click for more).

Update (8/27/2009, 5:15PM: I learned from Asst. Superintendent for Secondary Education Pam Nash, that West will follow the example of the other High Schools and find a way to fund the Freshman Orientation activities and refreshments without charging a fee. See here for an interim update.

I just learned that all 9th graders at Madison West High School will be charged a Freshman Orientation Day fee of $5 (I don’t know about the other High Schools).  This is wrong in so many ways.

It is wrong because — as recent Board of Education discussions and the draft Strategic Plan acknowledge — transitions are important, difficult and need attention.    Giving attention to transitions should be a district funded matter, not self-funded by the students and their families.

It is wrong because the preliminary 2009-10 budget passed in May includes the statement:

Student fees of all types are assumed to be unchanged for 2009-10

The MMSD website listing of 2009-10 fees does not include this charge.  It appears to be a new fee that was instituted without  public discussion or  Board of Education approval (in the past, the Board has taken an interest in student fees).

It is wrong because it may be illegal.   It depends on what the fee is for. According to the 1974 case State v. Sinclair (cited in this DPI information sheet) a Wisconsin Circuit Court ruled that the state constitutional guaranty of public education “”free and without charge for tuition to all children . . ” prohibited fees  “”charged for instruction.”  If the Freshman Orientation Day fee is for instruction, than it is illegal.

In the same case, the court permitted fees for extracurricular activities.  However, the orientation is mandatory and extracurricular activities are generally not.  It is not clearly against the law to charge for a mandatory extracurricular activity, although the whole idea of  a mandatory extracurricular activity and a fee for that activity invites care scrutiny.  This hasn’t happened.

It may be that the fee is for pizza or other refreshments.  In which case, requiring students to pay for food they may not want or consume seems wrong too.

Someone, the Board of Education or the administration, needs to give this some attention and kill the fee.

I  know money is tight, but this is not the answer (btw – the district needs to update their budget page, it still has the “everything is hunky-dory” material from the Spring).

Thomas J. Mertz


Filed under "education finance", Best Practices, education, Equity, finance, Local News, School Finance, Uncategorized

3 responses to “This is Wrong – $5 Freshman Orientation Fee (updated)

  1. Alex Wagner

    Monona Grove has been doing something similar for years, at least since I started going there as a fifth-grader in 1996. The “annual fee,” as it is called, is around $30 for elementary school, $40 for middle school, and $70 for high school. Students on free lunch have the fee waived, students on reduced lunch can pay half at the beginning of the year and half at the start of the second semester.

    So if this type of fee was illegal, you’d think someone would have challenged it by now here in Monona.

    I’m not commenting on whether this is a good idea or not, simply that Madison would not be the first to charge for a required activity.

  2. Alex Wagner

    Actually, now that I have had the chance to look at the MMSD fee schedule (I didn’t notice it when I posted my first comment) it looks like MMSD has something similar to MG’s annual fee in their “textbook fee.”

    The majority of MG’s annual fee was supposedly a “textbook fee” (even though my social studies textbook, in 2002, was written in 1988 and still had the Soviet Union), with the balance going to the yearbook.

  3. Alex

    Thanks for the info and correction. Yes, MMSD has a student activity fee in place too.

    Based on the Sinclair case linked in the post, my feeling is that blanket mandatory “student activity” fees might not survive a legal challenge, however most of the people who find these fees a significant burden are not in a position to pursue this.

    On the Orientation Day fee my main concerns are that orientation and transitions have been identified as a priority but are being funded by student fees. The other (only implied in the posts) is the slippery slope of public funding education via fees.

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