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Published in Print: September 30, 1998, as Textbook Fees Under Fire in Colorado

Textbook Fees Under Fire in Colorado

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Administrators in Jefferson County, Colo., were forced to apologize to parents this month after giving the false impression in registration materials that they were required to pay textbook fees for their children.

The apology was directed to parents such as Kathy Reilly, who wrote a letter to a local newspaper saying that state law prohibits schools from mandating a fee for materials used as part of a required curriculum.

"It's a matter of principle," Ms. Reilly said in an interview. "They are purposefully neglecting to say that it's an optional fee because they need the money and that's how they can get it."

"We are sending individual letters home to parents apologizing," said Marilyn Saltzman, a spokeswoman for the 89,000-student district in a western suburb of Denver.

She said about 24 of the district's 145 schools had some kind of statement in their materials saying that textbook fees were required. The fees range from $8 to $20 per pupil per year, depending on the grade level.

Contributions Urged

The letter to parents says: "The district has determined that the textbook fee is optional." At the same time, it encourages parents to pay the fees voluntarily, saying, "We hope you will support your school by not requesting a refund."

The letter goes on to explain how the fees, which have been collected since 1989, have helped the district to balance its budget. It says the district expects to collect $1.2 million from those fees to supplement this year's budget of $446 million.

But the district's apology did not completely satisfy one prominent parent.

One of those raising a ruckus about the fees is state Rep. Penn R. Pfiffner, a Republican whose son is enrolled in that district.

When he discovered his son's school was requiring a textbook fee contrary to state law last year, Mr. Pfiffner complained to the district administration. He said he was assured registration materials would be changed for this school year to make clear that the fees were optional.

"I was disappointed with the initial situation, and even more disappointed that it would occur the next year," he said.

Mr. Pfiffner said the fees are part of a larger funding issue in that the district has said it will eliminate textbook fees if voters approve a proposed $174.2 million property-tax levy for school operations in November.

In the meantime, the district has received 250 requests from families for refunds of the textbook fees so far.

Vol. 18, Issue 4, Page 12

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