Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Just 40% of students pay $15 activity fee at Hernando schools

Hernando High School principal Leechele Booker had hoped to hold more events to recognize students for their achievements and to teach positive behavior.

Pine Grove Elementary principal Thomas Earl Deen ran out of money designated for student activities and had to pull cash from other funds.

At West Hernando Middle, teachers dipped into their own pockets to pay for pizza parties and provide other incentives, said principal Carmine Rufa.

The culprit: the lack of student activity fee revenue during the past year.

In the second year since the $15-per-student fee was implemented, Hernando schools collected money from about 40 percent of students, diminishing schools' ability to provide extra activities in a time of drastically reduced budgets.

Just 8,648 of the district's 21,692 students paid the fee, generating about $130,000, according to an analysis of activity fee collection provided by the district's financial department. Schools lost more than $195,000 in revenue because of the unpaid fees.

That's up slightly from the 2011-12 collection rate of roughly 37 percent, which generated about $122,000.

"You know, overall, that has been a tremendous disappointment to me," outgoing superintendent Bryan Blavatt said of the collection rates.

The School Board approved the fee — required of every student — 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.

Over the past two years, Hernando's schools have seen consecutive 10 percent budget cuts, and many in the district say the fees are crucial to being able to provide activities, such as field trips, motivational speakers and rewards for students who make the honor roll.

Blavatt said some schools have come to him asking for money.

"My answer to them is, 'You had activity fees; where are they?' " he said.

Some schools are much more aggressive at trying to collect the fees than others, with collection rates varying widely from school to school, Blavatt said.

Chocachatti Elementary, which has one of the district's most affluent populations, collected fees from about 91 percent of its students, representing $11,760. 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.

Though the fees are required, there is no penalty for not paying.

"When the dust all settles, we can't enforce it," said Deen, principal of Pine Grove Elementary.

Pine Grove, which collected $3,840, could have done more this past school year had its collection percentage been higher, he said, offering more incentives for student achievement, more assemblies and more hands-on activities to enhance classroom learning.

"That would be great," Deen said.

He said some parents have difficulty paying the fee.

"A lot of them tell us that they just don't have the money," he said. "They're trying to decide whether to pay the activity fee or have another couple of meals.

"That's a legitimate concern for a lot of them."

Deen said collection has to go up next year.

"I went in the hole last year, budgetwise," he said. "We're running on a shoestring budget now. Everything you have to take from one place, then that hurts the other."

Rufa, West Hernando's principal, said he is going to try to increase the school's collection rate by 10 percentage points during the 2013-14 year. This year, the school received funds from about 21 percent of its students, for a total of $2,630.

Rufa said the school plans to offer an incentive for paying the fee during the school's open campus just before school starts. He also intends to set up a booth that explains what the money goes toward.

If the school had collected more activity fees this year, out-of-pocket expenses for teachers would have gone down.

"That's the goal," Rufa said.

Springstead High principal Susan Duval has had some of the greatest success collecting the fees. The school has raised the most of any of the high schools — by more than $12,000.

Her trick? Incentives.

Students can get discounts on everything from prom tickets to parking permits. They also are eligible to participate in dodgeball tournaments held for people who have paid their activity fees.

The tournaments actually draw a huge crowd, Duval said, with students dressing in coordinated outfits and bringing their "A" games.

"I'd get clobbered out there," she said. "(It) brings out the real pros."

Danny Valentine can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1432. On Twitter: @HernandoTimes.

New dorm still coming to USF St. Petersburg, but in a smaller package

New dorm still coming to USF St. Petersburg, but in a smaller package

ST. PETERSBURG — Originally pitched as a nine- or 10-story, 550-bed dorm for the overcrowded University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus, USF’s latest residence hall project will likely look much different by the time it’s done.For starters, it...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Carlton: From Sun Dome to Beer Stadium: Don’t let suds scare you

Carlton: From Sun Dome to Beer Stadium: Don’t let suds scare you

Am I missing something in the — pardon the expression — brouhaha over the renaming of the University of South Florida Sun Dome to the Yuengling Center? In trading a college arena’s longtime name for that of a big-name beer brewed ne...
Updated: 5 hours ago

Hillsborough school district will pursue two kinds of local taxes

TAMPA — Hillsborough County School District officials took an important step Tuesday toward asking the voters to pay higher taxes for schools that, they say, are not getting enough money from the state.The board voted 5-0 to submit a tax referendum r...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Ethan Hooper steps up with a salute to teachers

Ethan Hooper steps up with a salute to teachers

Editor’s note: Ethan Hooper wrote today’s column to give Ernest Hooper Father’s Day off.In May, I graduated from the University of Central Florida with a degree in elementary education, and I recently secured a job as a first-grade teacher with Orang...
Published: 06/18/18
AP World History course is dropping thousands of years of human events - and critics are furious

AP World History course is dropping thousands of years of human events - and critics are furious

Since 2002, the AP World History course has covered thousands of years of human activity around the planet, starting 10,000 years back. But now the College Board, which owns the Advanced Placement program, wants to cut out most of that history and st...
Published: 06/16/18
School board races attract new faces

School board races attract new faces

TAMPA — When long-time Hillsborough County School Board member Susan Valdes resigned this month from the board to run for the State House of Representatives, the decision affected more than just her seat in west Hillsborough’s District 1.It also coul...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/17/18
Hillsborough schools tax referendum is unlikely for November

Hillsborough schools tax referendum is unlikely for November

TAMPA — Money that the Hillsborough County School District needs to build schools and replace air conditioners might be farther from reach, thanks to a new state law and a bureaucratic process required before the voters can decide on a tax referendum...
Published: 06/14/18
University of Chicago eliminates SAT/ACT requirement

University of Chicago eliminates SAT/ACT requirement

The University of Chicago will no longer require ACT or SAT scores from U.S. students, sending a jolt through elite institutions of higher education as it becomes the first top-10 research university to join the test-optional movement.Numerous school...
Published: 06/14/18
Unhappy with superintendent’s budget wish list, Hernando School Board shuts down talk of tax increase

Unhappy with superintendent’s budget wish list, Hernando School Board shuts down talk of tax increase

BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County schools Superintendent Lori Romano presented to the School Board Tuesday nearly $53 million worth of budget priorities, asking them to choose which will be funded in the upcoming school year.The board voted 3-2 later Tue...
Published: 06/13/18
UT shines the spotlight on visiting authors

UT shines the spotlight on visiting authors

The University of Tampa’s MFA program will host the June 2018 Residency Visiting Writers Lectores Series that runs from now until June 21 on the ninth floor of the Vaughn Center, 401 W Kennedy Blvd. Each reading will be held at 7:30 p.m.Each January ...
Published: 06/12/18
Updated: 06/15/18