BROOKSVILLE — After two years of widely varying collection results, Hernando County School Board members have asked the district to re-examine the $15 student activity fee that was designed to raise money during a time of shrinking budgets.
Superintendent Lori Romano, who started July 1, said district staffers will survey principals to see where they stand on the fee.
School Board member Dianne Bonfield brought up the issue during a Tuesday afternoon workshop, noting the disparity in collection rates.
"We got a report it was rather dismal on the collection of those fees," Bonfield said. "Do we still want to try to collect them, or do we want to, you know, do away with them?"
For the 2012-13 school year, Hernando schools collected money from about 40 percent of students, generating roughly $130,000, according to the district. That was up from 37 percent the previous year.
Chocachatti Elementary, which has one of the district's most affluent populations, collected fees from about 91 percent of its students. Eastside Elementary, with the district's highest percentage of children qualifying for free or reduced-price meals, collected fees from just 3.7 percent of its students — $285.
School Board member Cynthia Moore was surprised to learn that all schools weren't collecting the fees.
"What do you mean every school wasn't doing it?" she asked. "It was required."
The School Board approved the fee after budget cuts in 2011 in an effort to assist with the cost of supporting clubs, extracurricular activities and school functions. The fee money stays with the school where it is collected. While the district has said the fee is required, students who do not pay are not barred from participating in activities. There is a separate fee for students who participate in athletics.
"It almost became overburdensome to try and persuade people to pay it without any foundation for why they should do it," said assistant superintendent of teaching and learning Ken Pritz, who was principal at Hernando High School when the fee was instituted.
Pritz liked the idea of a survey.
"It would be a shame to take it away from (the schools) if they were really benefiting from it," he said.
Moore said she thinks the extra money is important for schools.
"Any amount we get helps," she said. "I just think it's necessary to keep."
Board Chairman Matt Foreman said that, under the current setup, the district is basically authorizing principals to raise money for the general benefit of their schools.
"I don't know what benefit we're going to get from revoking that permission," Foreman said.
Danny Valentine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1432. On Twitter: @HernandoTimes.