School district to reexamine fees, consider reductions

The School District 57 board of trustees plans to reexamine school fees and potentially look for ways to reduce fees for families struggling financially because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

During its regular meeting on Tuesday, the board approved the 2020-2021 schedule of fees and deposits, with the caveat that the fees be brought back for reexamination in the fall.

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"We know finances are a major stressor for our families," trustee Trent Derrick said. "What would be the cost to the board if we waived the fees? This would be one less thing for people to worry about."

It's difficult to know now what the economy will look like in September, or if a second wave of COVID-19 will cause further disruptions to families, Derrick said.

"We're kind of looking at a moving target for decisions," he said. "That's a big concern."

District secretary-treasurer Darleen Patterson said she would have to crunch some numbers to calculate the cost to the district of waiving school fees, as fees vary between programs.

"I think it would be financially prudent to allow those who can afford to pay to pay," Patterson said.

Other levels of government are offering financial relief or payment deferrals, she said, but are asking those who don't need them to not defer payments.

"There is no significant increase in fees for this school year," district superintendent Anita Richardson said. "Our intention is not to have families struggle to pay for fees."

The district has a hardship clause which allows school administrators to waive fees for families that can't afford the cost, Richardson added. School principals in the district are proactive in helping families in need access that relief, she said.

No fees would be charged for programs or services that can't be offered because of public health measures to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.

"When we reach the fall and fees are due, I think there is going to be a lot of hardship," trustee Betty Bekkering said.

The COVID-19 pandemic could mean many people who haven't needed to apply for hardship relief in the past may find themselves pushed to the limit financially, Bekkering said.

The uncertainty around the pandemic may mean some programs can't be offered at all, while others may face increased costs, board chairperson Tim Bennett said.

Participants in the Canadian Sport School pay $180 per month for transportation and access to the UNBC Northern Sports Centre. The university sports centre isn't open currently, Bennett said, and may not be in the fall.

"Policies around transportation my look very different. Transportation is already a big cost for field trips and extra-curricular (actives,)" he said.

Trips that previously needed a 15-passenger van or single school bus may require multiple buses, to allow for safe social distancing on board, he said.

"I think it is definitely something we continue to monitor. We don't know what the school system will look like in September.”

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