School Board hears presentation regarding ‘uncollectible’ fines and fees

If you are 21 years old or older and owe the Edmonds School District an outstanding fine or fee, you may not be asked to pay it. The district is planning to write off those fines as it transitions to a new point-of-sale system.

The district collects fines and fees for many reasons. For example, if a student begins the school year in the district then transfers out without returning a textbook, that student would be charged a fee equal to the value of that text book for its replacement. The same goes for library books, sports equipment and technology, among other things.

The fines, once collected, would go to the school’s building budget so the school could replace whatever the fine or fee was regarding.

If a fine or fee is not collected in a timely manner, it becomes difficult to collect.

Currently, the district in total is owed an estimated $749,215 in uncollected fines and fees. Most of that, an estimated $435,313, belongs to students that would now be 21 years old or older.

While those numbers seem large, Stewart Mhyre, business and operations director for the district, said that number reflects total fees that would have been imposed across all the schools in the district. All fines and fees would go to the school, not the district’s general fund.

The number may also not be accurate, as record keeping through the years has transitioned from paper to digital, and now transitioning to a new digital system.

“Part of the problem with the inactive fees is that someone may have had a fee associated with their record at some point and actually paid it, but it didn’t get recorded,” Mhyre said.

He also said it is possible that someone may have, for example, returned an overdue library book to a school’s library and the school’s office staff may not have been notified because the book had gone missing several years before.

School board members were not happy about writing off old fees.

“It irks me to just write it off,” Board Member Ann McMurray said. “We’ve sat here for hours and gone through the budget to find $5,000, just $5,000 for an after-school bus.”

Mhyre said these fees could not have helped with that situation, since the money would return to the building.

“If they were worried about the building (budget), they would aggressively go after those fees, and some are more successful than others,” Mhyre said.

Once the current “uncollectible” fees are written off, Mhyre said the next step is to put a policy and procedure in place to write off a smaller number of fees every year.

“This is something the district should have been doing for years,” he said.

Other districts withhold tickets for guests to attend graduation or transcripts if students have uncollected fines or fees at the end of their senior year. Mhyre said this may be a policy they want to implement to reduce the number of outstanding fees at the end the school year.

“I like (those ideas),” Board Member Diana White said. “I also think there are things we could be doing now with the students we still have to make these numbers less atrocious.”

Any possible policy addition would come later.

“This is the cleanup for something that has been longstanding,” Superintendent Kris McDuffy said. “We just need to know where to draw the line.”

Also at Tuesday’s school board meeting:

  • Board Member Carin Chase was absent due to being sick.
  • The Board elected its officers for the 2017. Susan Phillips will continue to serve as School Board President, Ann McMurray will continue to be the Board Vice President and Carin Chase will be the Legislative Representative.
  • State Sen. Maralyn Chase spoke during Public Comments. She said the State Senate has been presented with a possible budget to comply with the McCleary decision, which has a budget of about $4 billion. She said she is not sure how to vote on it, because those billions of dollars could possibly go to other projects and she does not know how schools and teachers would use it. She asked the district if it would participate in a meeting with members of the State Senate and possibly other districts to review the proposed budget and see how schools would use the money so she and others could make a more educated vote. School Board Members later expressed their willingness to help show State Senators how they would use the money, but will not speak as to where in the state’s budget the money should come from.

–By Natalie Covate

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