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Large families struggle with rising enrollment fees

Staff writer

With school enrollment beginning today, local families are starting to feel the financial sting of back-to-school costs, some families more than others.

Jennifer Lane has six boys in the USD 408 school district, including boys at each level of school.

Drew Knolla is a senior at Marion High School, Lance Knolla is a junior, and Timothy Knolla is a sophomore.

Joshua Knolla is a seventh-grader at Marion Middle School.

Gunner Brown is a third-grader at Marion Elementary School, and Cross Brown is a second-grader.

Lane understands the cost of school supplies is significant. However, she said, the more pressing hardship for her family is enrollment fees, which have increased to $35 per child in the USD 408 school district this year.

For the Lane family, that cost will total $210, plus $40 yearbooks for each high school student.

As a former family president of Head Start and a PTA representative, Lane acknowledges that the district must charge enrollment fees. What she does not forgive is that there is no leniency for families with free and reduced lunches.

“I know how needy our district is,” Lane said.

USD 408 Superintendent Lee Leiker confirmed Thursday that all families must pay the $35 enrollment fee. He said the district was willing to work with families on a payment schedule.

Jerry Hinerman, who works for the USD 410 school district, has four children at Hillsboro High and Middle schools — Michaela is a senior, Kianna is a sophomore, Jonathan is a seventh-grader, and Genna is a fifth-grader.

He said that students receiving free lunches do not pay an enrollment fee in the USD 410 school district. For students receiving reduced price lunches, enrollment fees are significantly lowered.

USD 410 district schools have different enrollment fees per school, but the new pathways curriculum at the high school does cost families money. Classes with expenses, like art, are requesting signup fees of up to $15.

For Lane, $210 is a significant portion of the $500 the family spends on food every month she said in a comparison of costs.

Each student also will have a separate list of back-to-school supplies to purchase. The MES lists have been distributed by the school. Gunner will need to have 24 yellow pencils and a similarly sized box of crayons as part of his list. Cross is required to have a school backpack.

Lane said the usual cost for any elementary school child’s back-to-school list is $30 to $40.

“You can’t recycle supplies,” she said.

She said she tried to buy in bulk and stock up for the entire year. The Lanes shop at Wal-mart and Sam’s Club; shopping for supplies locally is too expensive, Lane said.

“We try to offer everything the list has; we try to do it at a fair price,” Debbie Buchholz from Marion Healthmart and Pharmacy said. “We do the best we can. There’s no way we can compete with Wal-mart.”

Buchholz also said the pharmacy goes to lengths to gather supplies and then assemble them per grade so families do not have to find all the supplies individually.

“We spend half the year with the school supply list trying to track down everything,” Buchholz said. “There may be a day when there’s not a store in Marion. We pay a lot more than Wal-mart.”

Hinerman said many of the back to school supplies stay the same for older kids but some items can be especially expensive. He gave the example of a scientific calculator. A Texas Instruments graphing calculator on Amazon costs $93.74.

“It adds up,” he said.

Each child in the Lane family will need back-to-school clothes and shoes. MES requires students to have a second pair of shoes for gym, so street shoes do not scratch the wood floor, Lane said.

“Even at Wal-mart, shoes are expensive,” Lane said.

She said new clothes and shoes will cost the family at least $500.

“It’s hard enough for a large family,” Lane said.

With fewer large families in the district, Lane said there was little social understanding of her family’s difficulties.

“They say they understand, but they also say — you had them, deal with them,” Lane said.

Last modified Aug. 3, 2011

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