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Jan. 13, 2009

Many MCPS fees to be reprieved

by Poorna Natarajan, Online Staff Writer
A memorandum to the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) Board of Education released on Jan. 7 by the Superintendent of Schools Jerry Weast states that fees charged by schools for course-related items will be reduced by more than 70 percent at the high school level and 60 percent at the middle school level.

The memorandum states that schools will provide textbooks, supplementary readers (i.e. workbooks), audio/visual aids, stationary and materials for proper instruction of the curriculum. For example, science lab fees, musical instruments and towel fees may not be charged by the schools. Principals cannot allocate fees for their respective schools. However, each school might recommend items for the students to individually buy and charge for any material that may be taken home or eaten, like food supplies and art supplies. Any allowable fee cannot be overcharged and can only be the cost of the item.

To cover the future loss due to the fees, $1,539,689 million has been realigned in the Fiscal Year 2010 Operating Budget to help schools manage the impact of the revised guidelines, according to the proposal. The increased allocations for instructional materials include $258,495 for elementary schools, $299,950 for middle schools and $981,244 for high schools.

Under the Education Article of the Public Laws of Maryland, Section 7-106 states that the each county board provides free of charge textbooks, supplementary reader, materials of instruction, visual/auditory aids, stationary and school supplies. Therefore, previously imposed fees like lab and towel fees were illegal.

Montgomery County parents, including Blair parent Rosanne Hurwitz, launched an anti-fee campaign this summer after investigating the illegal fees. Finding the $4 towel fees at Blair egregious, Hurwitz proceeded to research fees that other schools charged, and she found major inconsistencies. "It started out with the towel feels," Hurwitz said. "The towels were mere napkins. I checked with kids from different schools and found the towel fees were not uniform."

Interested by the incongruities with the towel fees issued by each school, Hurwitz found a number of fees, like lab fees, that only some schools charged. "Some schools charge different science lab fees and some don't charge at all," said Hurwitz. "So were the labs different?"

Hurwitz, along with many parents in the Montgomery County Parents Coalition, consequently joined efforts in fighting against the fees. In August, parents lobbied County Council, the Maryland Attorney General, state delegates and the Maryland Department of Education.

The parents' efforts were recognized by the county, leading to the memorandum, according to Montgomery County Director of Communications Steve Simon. "We took a look at members of the community's concerns expressed about schools having some fees while other didn't," Simon said. "The proposal was created after exhausting staff review to uniform and clarify the procedure."



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