The West Ada School District will stop charging fees for classes that count toward graduation at the start of next school year.

The fees were ruled unconstitutional by a district judge in November as the result of a three-year lawsuit filed by Russell Joki, elected in May to the West Ada school board. Though the ruling didn't order the district to slash the fees, the intent of the law is clear, district general counsel William “Breck” Seiniger said.

Last school year, students contributed almost $900,000 in class fees to cover things like art and lab supplies, according to district finance director Alex Simpson.

Misty Sterk, who teaches honors biology and a crime scene lab at Eagle High School, worries where funding will come from when the fees are eliminated. The bill for lab supplies often exceeds $700, she said, but science teachers at her school only get about $50 a class to cover these costs.

“Pig hearts are expensive, fetal pigs are expensive, sharks, all of this,” she said. “We drug test maggots. … DNA testing is very expensive — very important, but very expensive.”

Sterk said she's generated thousands of dollars in grant money to buy equipment for her classes, but the materials still need to be purchased each year. If funding is reduced, Sterk said she would end up just covering the expenses out of pocket.

“I can't be the pencil and paper worksheet teacher. I'm a lab teacher, and my job is to create 21st century scientists,” she said. “I need funding to do that.”

Superintendent Mary Ann Ranells assured Sterk that the district's priority is keeping all of its programs intact without teachers taking a pay cut or having to fund supplies themselves.

“We certainly don't want to jeopardize the integrity or the quality of some of our outstanding programs,” Ranells said. “We don't have all the answers, but philosophically, morally, ethically, we don't think we should charge fees.”

Currently, students who can't afford class fees, which typically range from $10 to $50 per class, can ask their school for a fee waiver. But no student or family should have to go through that humiliation, Joki said.

The school board voted 4-1 at tonight's board meeting to eliminate the fees. Joki voted against the motion because he wanted to fees to be cut this semester rather than waiting until next school year.

District staff, including school principals and teachers, have been directed to take an inventory of how much money class fees generate and where expenses could be cut.

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