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D-155 
to soften fee hikes

CRYSTAL LAKE – It would still cost more to attend Community High School District 155 in the fall under a revised plan to raise most student fees, but not as much as previously expected.

A school board committee said at a meeting April 9 that it wanted to raise fees more gradually than administrators proposed.

Although administrators are looking for ways to reduce costs and increase revenue, the district carries millions of dollars in operating reserves. At a meeting earlier this year, the board even discussed a policy change that would allow the district to make short-term loans – charging interest – to other school districts low on cash.

In the past, the district – which has four high schools in Crystal Lake and Cary – charged 183 individual course fees for students, with the average student paying $146 a school year for courses. A proposal would eliminate the individual fees in favor of a higher flat fee.

The registration fee is used to offset the costs of books and nonreusable materials the district must replace. An analysis prepared for the board showed the cost per student for these items was $209.

“We’re losing money,” Business and Finance Director Joe Murphy said.

The district is under greater economic pressure as a result of declining state aid, declining revenue from interest, and increasing employee and material costs, he said. Administrators and board members are worried about legislation that could shift the state’s pension burden to local school districts.

Those factors could reduce the district’s ability to subsidize the cost of student materials, Murphy said.

Administrators initially wanted to charge $200 per student; the committee pushed for $175. The proposal was set to go before the full board for a vote in March, but it was pulled from the agenda.

When committee members reconsidered the proposal this week, they settled on a $155 flat fee. But, unlike previous plans, the registration fee won’t include a $20 activity ticket. Students can purchase an activity ticket separately – along with yearbooks, driver’s education, advanced placement exams, parking and graduation apparel.

The board last raised registration fees in 2000, according to a board report.

Other fees also are going up. Driver’s education fees would go to $100 from $65, and student parking fees would go to $100 from $75 under the plan.

Driver’s education fees haven’t been raised since the 1990s and the last student parking fee increase was 2005.

The full board could vote on the revised fee schedule at a 7:30 p.m. meeting Tuesday at Cary-Grove High School, 2208 Three Oaks Road.

Going forward, Murphy recommended the board review the fee structure annually.

“That way we don’t get into a situation like we are in now where [some fees] haven’t been increased in 20 years,” he said.

Recent budget projections show the district’s education fund carries a balance of more than $36 million in fiscal year 2013. The district also carries balances in its other funds.

With the district’s reserves earning little interest in the bank, the board has discussed a policy change that would allow the district to bid on other school district’s tax anticipation warrants. Officials said providing these short-term loans to cash-strapped districts would allow District 155 to earn a higher interest rate on its money without additional risk.

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