Parents in Mentor, Ohio, should think twice before “losing” that back-to-school letter asking them to pay for workbooks and gym uniforms.
Impatient about unpaid fees, the 9,000-student district is one of hundreds in the nation that have turned to debt-collection agencies to help rake in past-due fees.
“The real problem right now is that school funding is tight,” said Scott Ebright, a spokesman for the Ohio School Boards Association. “No one likes charging fees, and they really don’t like going after them. This is a tough situation they’re facing.”
In the past 18 months, the Mentor public school system has collected almost $40,000 through the services of Transworld Systems, a Santa Rosa, Calif.-based firm whose clients include the Girl Scouts of America and about 1,700 schools across the nation.
“It’s not just a financial issue. It’s equally a fairness issue,” said Daniel L.Wilson, the chief financial officer for the district, near Cleveland.
The Ohio state board of education allows districts to use such collection services. But it does not permit sanctions such as refusing to let a student graduate because of unpaid fees. Using collection agencies is not a technique many districts look forward to, said Ronald A. Skinner, the director of government and public affairs for the Reston,Va.-based Association of School Business Officials.
To ease the sting, some districts are choosing companies willing to tailor their practices to the needs of a sensitive client.
“Transworld Systems works with school districts to produce a more soft communication process with the parents, rather than a hard collection agency, which might be more aggressive,” said Amanda Levy, the marketing manager for the Ohio School Boards Association. “It’s done in a gentle way that doesn’t alienate parents.”
Mentor worked with the company to oversee the procedures. For families in financial need, the district is willing to reduce, or even waive, fees on a case-by-case basis.
“We’re not going to repossess anybody’s car or foreclose anyone’s house,” said Mr. Wilson, Mentor’s CFO.
A version of this article appeared in the September 05, 2007 edition of Education Week