Town Square

PAUSD to refund illegal summer school tuition charges

Original post made by Curious on May 30, 2013

Palo Alto schools superintendent Kevin Skelly said today that the district is barred by law from charging tuition for summer school, and promised refunds to parents who want them. The action follows by three days a post to Palo Alto Online by Curious, a Palo Alto resident who posts occasional news stories to the online site (see Web Link). The post, entitled "PAUSD student fee policies run contrary to state law," reported that the school district's fee policies on summer school tuition and other items such as gym uniforms and calculators violate the California constitution and state law.

The California Department of Education has held since at least 1997 that districts may not charge tuition for summer school classes (see Web Link). In 2012, the state legislature adopted AB 1275 codifying existing law and court rulings, as part of a settlement with the ACLU.

The law requires that the district make a reasonable effort to send refunds to all parents once it has determined that the tuition charges were illegal. The law does not contain a provision allowing the district to keep tuition payments unless parents explicitly request their return.

The legal issues ensnaring summer school tuition have been known to the district for at least a year. On April 10, 2012, Skelly sent the Board of Education a memo informing them that the City of Palo Alto had "concerns about charging for summer school"(see the file of "regular weeklies" at the PAUSD Public Records Act disclosure page). The City collects summer school tuition as a "fiscal agent" on behalf of PAUSD. As a result of the City's protest, the district stopped charging last year for high school classes bearing credit. That decision, Skelly estimated cost $200,000 in foregone tuition.

The 2012 summer school had $368,000 in tuition revenue, according to a report to the school board in October 2012 (see Web Link). There were 2,686 students, of whom 733 were elementary school students and 929 middle students. All of those students were charged tuition, except for those qualifying for fee waivers because of low income.


Posted by Gunn parent, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 30, 2013 at 10:50 pm

Are they also going to refund the money for expensive graphing calculators, musical instrument rentals for 5th grade when it's required, and other charges? Instrument rentals are expensive, and not easily afforded by many families. Same with these expensive calculators. Fair's fair. If Skelly is going to refund summer school, then I want a refund too for what I have spent for calculators and band instrument rental. Why only summer school -- the other charges are equally illegal. I'm being penalized just because I never sent my son to summer school.

It's only fair. Dr. Skelly will you please refund all of the money the district charged in violation of the law and not just summer school.

Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 30, 2013 at 10:59 pm

Dr. Skelly, please drop the music curriculum. Please also drop the advanced math classes in high school. Apparently most parents can not afford this. Even though the schools offer to pay for these things that parents can not, it just doesn't seem fair. Everything should be brought down to the lowest common denominator. Forget that no one who wants these things is denied.

Posted by Gunn parent, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 31, 2013 at 3:57 am

You know, it's wrong of you to shame people for wanting refunds that they are entitled to by law, or to blame them for ending whole programs if they don't want to keep paying for stuff that is supposed to be free. I would imagine that you are someone who has never had to worry about a sum like $100. Good for you. But not all of us are that lucky. To me and to some other people $100 is a lot of money. I am divorced, and I don't have a lot of money and I don't like having to to the school begging for this or that. And by the way, middle class people struggle very hard in Palo Alto. Even if you have a good job (I do) and make too much to be "poor" and ask for free stuff, the expectation that you can afford $100 for this and $300 for that is very hard to keep up with. So please save your attitude.

Posted by village fool, a resident of another community
on May 31, 2013 at 6:13 am

@Curious: Thank you. Do you know what % of the 2.686 past summer school students (2012) qualified for fee waivers because of low income?

Posted by Good for you, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on May 31, 2013 at 8:14 am

Yes, Curious, your post did the trick. Of course, the legal advisory memo from the CDE on April 24 might have had a tiny something to do with it as well. ;-)

Posted by Palo Verde Parent, a resident of Palo Verde
on May 31, 2013 at 8:40 am

My guess is that the net result will be ONLY credit recovery summer school next year. I checked around and at this point we are the only district that offers a full summer program. There is no law that says a school district has to offer the rich summer program that we offer. I don't believe there is a law that a school has to offer any summer program.

In my opinion, this law will eventually lead to programs at schools that could be described as a bare bones program. In general, if schools have to pay for all students to take AP tests then AP classes won't exist in school. If schools have to pay for PE uniforms then the PE classes will look very different. If schools have to pay for all school supplies the money will have to come from somewhere, maybe increased class size, maybe older text books. I am not just talking about PAUSD, I am talking in general for all districts.

It seems to me there is a better way to create equity than to create a system where parents that make enough money to fund miscellaneous school expenses are no longer expected to do so. In my opinion, the families that can afford such things will look to the private sector to fill the need (more independent AP type courses, enrichment summer school etc).

At least right now, parents who had students who did not qualify for credit recovery but wanted to take a summer course (i.e. the bridge course for math in high school) were able to ask for a fee waiver if they really needed it and the fee waiver was granted. I think it was a win - win. What will happen is the people who can afford it will pay a someone in the private sector (who will jump all over creating a "bridge class") and their outcome will be the same, but the student who obtained the fee waiver to take the class will not be able to get a "fee waiver" from the private sector. The end result will be a bigger divide. The people who can pay will find a way to provide opportunity to their kids. The losers here are the people who have benefited from the fee waiver system.

Posted by paly parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 31, 2013 at 9:20 am

Palo Verde Parent - I agree, this will (and probably should) be the last year PAUSD offers anything besides credit recovery for high school and remedial classes for the elementary and middle schools. The enrichment classes are really more like summer camp (not the HS classes) and we shouldn't be providing those for free.

Some enterprising teachers should get together to provide these classes as summer "camps", rent the space from the District and charge for them next summer.

This law will impact PAUSD much, even school supplies can be covered by requested donations (some elementary schools do that anyway, provide the paper, pens, crayons, etc. to classroom thru PTA funds). As far as AP classes, all they need to do is stop requiring kids to take the AP exam.

While well-intentioned, the impact this will have on other, less well off Districts (and the teachers who will pay for a lot of this out of their pockets) will be terrible.

Posted by Gunn parent, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 31, 2013 at 9:24 am

PVP it would be a lot easier to talk about this if you did not inflate the consequences to a parade of horribles that is imaginary. There will be some negative and some positive impacts.

1. AP classes won't be dropped -- taking the test will be dropped as a requirement. That's actually a good thing. Kids who want to take the test will take it, kids who just want the subject matter but don't care about the test will maybe still try out the class. Who does the test benefit anyway? The student doesn't get college credit in most cases, and shouldn't really want to replace college work with high school courses anyway. Perhaps the main beneficiaries of the test are College Board and the district which is in a number of indexes and rankings in which number of AP tests taken and the scores of those tests are ranking criteria. A student who takes 8 APs in their high school career has paid approximately $800. That's a lot of money if the value added of the test over the course is not there.

2. A huge number of people in PAUSD already have their kids in private sector tutoring particularly for math. Those who are trying to push their kids forward into higher math lanes are particularly likely to do summer school and to do tutoring. This won't change anything in that regard. What it will change is that PAUSD will focus its resources on providing remedial help in the summer for kids who need to catch up. Instead of teaching many subjects and courses (and hiring teachers to do so) PAUSD may choose to spend its resources enrolling kids who need help, special education students, students who have had trouble with concepts or been victimized by EDM, and so forth. That's not necessarily a bad thing. If resources are scarce then they should be focused where there is actual need rather than elsewhere.

It may be that the summer school programming we have been offering is the wrong kind and the lack of free money will help us to recalibrate that.

In that case, there would be a smaller divide, not a bigger one as the summer school program will be used to focus attention and resources on those who need help to catch them up with their peers.

3. Why would gym look different because of having to provide a few gym suits. As a poster on another thread pointed out, the board already approved spending $150,000 per year on a PR officer. Obviously, we should spend that on gym suits and school supplies. If there is enough fat in the budget for that, there is enough to pay for PE suits and paper. Don't you worry.

This was a colossal screw up. Ignoring the law and building an entire program on illegal fees, and then continuing it even after the Assembly passed a bill to ban the practice, and then continuing even after CDE said "we really mean it." and then continuing it even after our own lawyers told us to stop. It boggles the mind how we have such poor managers running the district.

You are right that this is going to hit poorer schools harder. You are absolutely right about that. Fortunately, PAUSD is not one of those poorer schools. We have 5 million per year in private donations and are a basic aid district. We'll be just fine.

Now they have to cut refund checks to over 2000 families. I personally hope that Kevin Skelly has to lick the envelopes for each and every one.

Then he can start on the calculator refunds.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 31, 2013 at 9:42 am

Can't see why some of you think this is a good thing!

I feel for our school district now. This is a case of becoming too pc and we, the public, are going to lose out.

There is a need for summer school at the elementary age, and perhaps a system whereby they turn into camps which have to rent space at local elementary schools run by those of our teachers who want to earn money during the summer. But, my guess is that it will end up costing more for the families who use it. The summer is a long time to find activities for families where both parents work and there are no grandparents to do free childcare during the summer.

The free high school make up classes will have to stop and so some students who need to retake a class will have to do so at a cost through a private means - after all the teachers will expect to be paid and their salary will have to come from somewhere.

PE classes will have to supply free uniforms or will stop sweat producing activities. There will be no swimming as part of PE due to the fact that the school will not provide suits (and towels) for all students. PE classes will change.

Music will be impacted as the school cannot afford to supply instruments to all students.

Math classes may change if calculators are required.

We may end up with no duplicate textbooks to keep at home as a means of providing supplies in the classrooms. Our kids will then have to carry heavy textbooks to and from school every day and the more classes mean the more text books. Backpacks will become very heavy.

And yet some of you think this is a good thing.

The PC police are at it again.

Posted by Private Parent, a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 31, 2013 at 9:48 am

Although I find this outcome a little disappointing, I think it correctly reflects the law as it stands.

The solution, of course, is to fully fund our schools via property taxes (and I say that as someone who pays double for my kids' education--once via property taxes, and once via private school tuition).

A well educated population is a public good, and the public should pay for it. It benefits much more than just the kids and families that use it. Why are Palo Alto's property values so high? Because its schools are top quality.

Any modification to Prop 13 is politically untenable, but at the very least it should be modified to eliminate both the business exemption and the inheritance provision. That would solve a lot of the funding issues and problems we see here.

Posted by Gunn parent, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 31, 2013 at 9:52 am

Why do you think that parents won't donate to PIE or PTA to pay for these items? And if they won't what does that say about whether they actually want them or not?

Posted by paly parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 31, 2013 at 10:24 am

Resident -

The remedial classes have always been free at least at the elementary level. Remedial HS classes will still be offered, maybe only to kids behind on credits, not to kids who want to get ahead. Plenty of local private schools also offer summer classes.

PE uniforms are already free at Paly. It is very easy to ask for a "PE uniform donation" on back to school forms, then provide them to everyone. The District has wanted to get rid of swimming at the Middle school anyway, the pools cost a lot to maintain.

The District already owns a lot of instruments, again, schools can ask for a "instrument donation" or we could have a one time capital campaign to purchase them. Same thing for calculators, etc.

This is not being PC -it is following a well-intended law which will have unfortunate consequences.

Posted by Newsie, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 31, 2013 at 11:20 am

"...Curious, a Palo Alto resident who posts occasional news stories to the online site..." Curious statement, as "Curious" only posts his/her version of events to this forum, or reposts articles from regular news sources, such as the Weekly and the Mercury-News. Curious is obviously impressed by his/her own importance; not everyone else is.

Posted by Wow, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on May 31, 2013 at 12:05 pm

Well he or she did force the district to disgorge several hundred thousand dollars back to parents.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 31, 2013 at 12:31 pm

I dont disagree with the findings. But be careful of what you wish for...unintended consequences are coming your way.

As far as I know, PAUSD is not required to offer any summer school. Even remedial or credit make up for flunking. I can see summer school going away so that PAUSD can provide all of the newly required tools, clothing, calculators, etc.

PiE was established as a means to support:
Elementary schools - classroom support, art, science
Middle schools - student guidance, electives, teacher coaching
HS - student guidance, college & career counciling, electives

Those needs are not going away, so I wouldn't go looking to PiE to solve the new funding problems.

Posted by Gunn parent, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 31, 2013 at 12:35 pm

@Curious, thank you for doing the reporting that the Weekly and the Post are missing. The Merc of course covered this months ago, and specifically called out Palo Alto as one of the worst scofflaws on AB1575. You know, Curious, I think you are quite a blogger. Your posts about this are more informative than the Weekly's story today about the refunds, thats for sure.

BTW on the other thread from that story, people are speculating that it would be legal for PAUSD to privatize its summer school to a subcontractor. But the California Constitution prohibits transferring either directly or indirectly any part of the public school system or control over the educational process to any other entity. In order for the courses to be summer school the district must have control and in order to have control the district must provide the services for free.

CDE advised districts regarding this as long ago as 1997. See: Web Link

There's another issue with turning over summer school to some other entity, such as the City so that tuition can still be charged and then kicked back to the school -- it is that it would be scheme concocted with the intent and purpose of defeating the law. That is why the City informed the district last year that it had concerns with collecting the tuition for the school district and paying it to the district. Because it appears to implicate the City in an unconstitutional effort to charge people for a public education.

What part of free don't we understand. Let's get on with the calculator refunds. 2 kids times 2 graphing calculators == $200. Hope it gets here in time for Christmas.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 31, 2013 at 12:54 pm

Gunn parent is right. Which supports my theory that summer school will be sharply curtailed or eliminated altogether.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 31, 2013 at 1:11 pm

For those who think this will not affect summer school for remedial reasons, make up math and English, forget it. These are usually funded by the fees paid by the rest of summer school classes. The costs are mainly paying for the teachers. These teachers will still need to be paid if they do remedial summer school. Because of no regular summer school, the funds to pay the teacher for remedial summer school will have to come from somewhere.

Remedial summer school will have to go due to lack of funding. As a family who has benefitted from remedial summer school and would have been willing to pay for it provided it was accepted for grading purposes, I can say that this is a blow to many students who struggle in school in math and English.

Posted by Midtown resident, a resident of Midtown
on May 31, 2013 at 1:18 pm

It's a little funny to see the "the sky is falling" comments. The revenue impact is something under $400,000. The district has a surplus from property tax revenue increases of millions of dollars, with more coming. That's why the school board is coming up with stuff like a PR officer to soak up the cash. If the community values summer school, it's not going to be a resource constraint that keeps us from having it.

Posted by Palo Verde Parent, a resident of Palo Verde
on May 31, 2013 at 2:24 pm

I never meant my comments to be interpreted as the "sky is falling". Our district as a whole will "suffer" less than others, no doubt. Still, I think the ones who will be hurt the most are the ones who use to receive fee waivers. They are not likely to get a "fee waiver" in the private sector, so they won't have access to FREE SAT prep or other summer offerings if PAUSD goes to a remedial only summer school.

About the calculator issue, no one can deny that it is an advantage to use a TI graphing calculator on the SAT, SAT II,ACT or AP tests. If our schools cannot (or choose not to) provide every student with one of these calc's then the curriculum will be adjusted. Students will not learn how to use them unless they do it on their own or go to an SAT math prep class designed to teach that skill. Again, the students who can afford this will have an advantage. At this point, student who cannot afford a graphing calculator can check one out for the year. Therefore they have it to use on standardized tests during the school year. There is no way the district can afford to do that for all students.

PE clothes is just the tip of the iceberg. What about shoes for running the mile? swimsuits, towels? socks? where will that stop? The answer might be that students wear everyday clothes and then don't sweat. Certainly they can walk or learn the rules of the games. Many parents won't bother to "donate" for the clothes if they don't think it is required.

The "sky is not falling" but certainly things will change and I stand by my opinion that the ones that will be hurt the most is the group the law was trying to protect.

Posted by village fool, a resident of another community
on May 31, 2013 at 3:21 pm

@Palo Verde Parent - I agree that those who will suffer most will suffer most will be those who qualify for fee waiver. That was the reason that had me ask, above, about the % of the students qualifying for fee waiver in the summer camps @2012. I'll be very curious to know if there is a way to compare the % of schools' low income to the % of qualifying students who attended summer school, especially in remedial Math and English. I do not know if transportation needs to be provided, free, for the students who qualify? I asked since I happened to know several situations in past years where school did not make significant effort to let the parents of the students who needed most know that summer camp can help, especially English and Math, and it is free.
Another thread addressed this issue on early March. I think it is interesting to note, possibly, tone change in these forums. It seems to me that we see lately less comments along the lines of the first post, responding. Web Link
Curious - Thank you.

Posted by Queen of Scots, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 1, 2013 at 11:58 am

I will be happy if they would just stop sending begging letters twice a year! Does anyone actually pay out to those?

Posted by village fool, a resident of another community
on Jun 1, 2013 at 6:15 pm

village fool is a registered user.

Do you have any thought as to the reason that made this thread available only to those logged in?
Also - it seems to me that the couple other threads dealing with these issues, or seemingly related issues, became available only to those logged in during the same time frame. I wonder if you may have have any insight?