By Chris Yow
TRUSSVILLE — A report last week from Alabamaschoolconnection.org showed Trussville City Schools parents paid close to $150 more per student, per year in required high school fees than any other system in the state. The data was taken from revenue reports, using Code 7260, which is used for required annual fees.
Neill said in an email to The Tribune she believes code 7260 is for all grades K-12, and every elementary field trip is coded in 7260.
“Revenue codes do not have a pure definition by code number,” Neill said in the email.
While coding differences are used statewide, the code in question is specifically desgined to show required monies paid by students to take certain classes.
The state, by law, does not allow schools to require any fees for any child in the first six grades (Code of Alabama, Section 16-10-6). That is interpreted as kindergarten through fifth grade. Law also prohibits any fee for a course required for standard graduation (Code of Alabama, Section 16-13-13), but any honors course or Advanced Placement courses are not considered required for standard graduation.
Therefore, many honors courses have a fee attached, but rarely exceed $25 per class. Only AP Sciences ($35) and AP Art ($50) have a fee higher.
Academy classes, however, typically have higher fees due to extra necessities, such as uniforms for the Fire Fighting Program or food for the Culinary classes.
All of those fees account for the average cost per student reported by Trisha Crain in last week’s story.
Crain said Trussville ma be simply coding some fees differently, but the data she used was exactly what each school system reported over the last four years.
“If (Trussville) is calling an elementary field trip a required fee, that might get through an audit, but it’s not an accurate representation for what the code was meant,” Crain said.
Code 7260 is listed as “Dues and Fees (Required)”, while another code –7610 — is listed for “Dues and Fees (Self-Imposed)”, which is where Crain said elementary field trips and athletic fees, etc. should be coded.
State law and the financial outline provided to schools tend to side with Crain on the matter, since legally no fee can be required of any student grades K-5, including field trips, according to the Alabama State Department of Education’s booklet “Financial Procedures for Local Schools”.
Dennis Heard, of Local Education Agency, the agency who lays out the guidelines in the booklet according to state laws said he believes elementary school field trips should be coded as donations.
“We know that schools miscode things,” Heard said. “There are 1,500 schools, so there are 1,500 different ways to do things. Field trips would come under donations, because you can’t require students to pay for field trips. They’re (coding) it in the wrong place. Other school systems may have things that should go in 7260, but they’re putting it somewhere else.
“The best way compare school fees is to compare fee schedules for each school.”
In Section 8, the booklet states when the field trip is for academic purposes, “Voluntary contributions may be requested to pay transportation, meals, or admission charges.” While those fees are voluntary, Neill said without parents’ help, field trips could not be taken.
Andy Craig, Deputy State Superintendent for Administrative and Financial Services, said he doesn’t believe the report compared apples to apples.
“Trying to find out what every system in the state codes everything would take a lot of leg work,” Craig said. “But I think Dr. Neill is probably right in saying every school system codes things differently.”
Craig did not comment on the legality of coding field trips in the code, but state auditors have no problem with the coding according to Neill.
“We’re coding it correctly according to the auditors,” Neill said. “We’ve never had an audit exception. If we were coding it wrong, they would write us up.
“Our bookkeepers are very precise and I appreciate them for their hard work.”