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Waiver modification will impact instrument usage fees

Profile image for By Britney Tabor
By Britney Tabor

The Denton school board intends to modify a district policy regarding student fee waivers.

The board discussed the one-word policy modification at a meeting Tuesday. Last month, the board approved changes to the district’s music instrument usage fee, and according to district officials, that means the policy on student fees must also be modified.

On July 29, the board made a change to instrument usage fees that require students who qualify for free lunch status pay a $25 fee to use district-owned music instruments. In the past, the fee has been waived for those students.

The fee change impacts students who start school Aug. 25.

“It had the least financial impact,” said Glenna Harris, school board president. “We think that if students on free … [lunch] could pay $25 … that would generate enough funds for the average year’s expenses for repairs and replacements.”

According to district officials, it is the first modification to the instrument usage fee since the 2001-02 school year and was implemented to offset increasing maintenance and repair expenses for district-owned instruments. All students with the exception of percussionists and students qualifying for reduced lunch status are still required to pay a $100 fee to use district-owned band and orchestra instruments. Percussionists who purchase their own drum kit and students qualifying for reduced lunch pay a $50 fee.

Harris said the district needs “everyone to put a little skin in the game” so that instruments hold up for several years.

The board is considering changing the policy to read as such: “Upon receipt by the District of reliable proof that a student and his or her parent or guardian are unable to pay a fee or deposit required by the school, such fee or deposit may be waived.” The current policy states that the fee or deposit “shall be waived.”

Trustees intend to take final action on the student fee policy change Sept. 9, according to Harris. She said it’s her understanding the fee can still take effect when school starts despite the policy not being officially considered until next month.

In the 2001-02 school year, 20 students qualified for instrument fee waivers, according to data presented to the school board June 24. The 2013-14 school year had 695 students granted instrument fee waivers, according to the district.

Also increasing is the district’s instrument inventory. The number of district-owned instruments varies in age, said David McCullar, Denton school district fine arts director. As new schools open and aging instruments cost too much to repair, new instruments are purchased, he said.

Typical repair costs range from $50 to $75 per instrument, according to the district. Major repairs cost anywhere from $300 to more than $400.

As of June, the district had spent nearly $32,000 in instrument repair and maintenance expenses and had collected more than $25,000 in instrument usage fees. The district is still awaiting expense estimates from repairs done over the summer, McCullar said.

The last couple of school years, the district has run a deficit because the instrument usage fees collected were not enough to support increased costs for repairing instruments, McCullar said.

Five years ago, the district collected nearly $27,000 in instrument usage fees and had a nearly $17,000 bill for instrument maintenance and repairs.

McCullar said it’s unknown how much the district will generate from the $25 collected from students qualifying for free lunch.

He said the fine arts department will have a better idea once school starts and the number of band and orchestra students who use district-owned instruments and qualify for free lunch status is determined.

Families can pay the instrument usage fee at the beginning of the school year, McCullar said.

They can also opt to use a payment plan that requires the fee be paid in full by Nov. 1. If families need an extension, they can talk with their band or orchestra director to make arrangements, he said.

“We certainly don’t want to see any student not participate in band or orchestra because of fees,” McCullar said. “We would work with parents … to make sure that they have the time that they need, but our preference is to have [fees] collected by November the first.”

BRITNEY TABOR can be reached at 940-566-6876 and via Twitter at @BritneyTabor.