The delinquent fees and fines owed by parents in Northwest Suburban High School District 214 has increased tenfold over the past two years, causing officials to open the door to using a state collections program to recoup the money.
As of June 30, 2010, the district was owed $32,556.72 in delinquent fees and fines, said Deb Parenti, associate superintendent for finance and operations. On the same date in 2012 that number was $331,067.03.
"Part of it is the economy in general. Finances are an issue everywhere," Parenti said. She added that changing demographics can also be a factor, as well as some parents who just don't pay on principle.
For the 2012-2013 school year registration was $425, as well as a $50 fee for students who participate in co-curricular activities. Other fines may include unreturned library book or textbooks. Parenti said the district has had minimal fee increases in recent years and is still at a lower level than surrounding schools.
District 214 sends letters to families notifying them of their fees and withholds certain student privileges if the fees aren't paid, including having a parking pass or attending prom, Parenti said.
This month the District 214 school board approved a policy change that would allow the district to enter into an intergovernmental agreement with the state comptroller to recover delinquent debt. The program is new and Parenti said she isn't yet recommending that the district use it, but that this opens the door.
"The first step is just to add it to our policy, that allows us the option should we consider it in the future," she said.
While $300,000 in late fees out of a district where the budget is $200 million may not seem huge, Parenti said it does make a difference.
"It's a growing problem and with revenues declining in every area it becomes a bigger problem," she said.
Registration fees often go to help pay for the cost of textbooks, a budget line of about $1.2 million each year. With more students in District 214 taking Advanced Placement courses -- where the textbooks come at college-level prices -- plus a state-funded textbook program that was recently cut, it all adds up to a big loss for the district, officials said.
In addition, a growing number of families qualify for fee waivers from the state. The district has seen a 200 percent increase in students receiving fee waivers since the 2003-2004 school year, Parenti said.
For this school year about 20 percent of the district's 12,000 students are getting waivers.
"We have to pay for these things whether parents pay their fees or not, so anything we don't collect is a cost to the district and the taxpayers," she said.
To apply for a fee waiver, families must meet state requirements and submit tax paperwork to be approved.