Budget cuts may create application fee

Felicia Solazzo and Keiran Sheridan, Staff Writers

The proposal of an application fee for new and returning students to West Shore has postponed the application deadline for incoming students from Feb. 1 to March 1 at 4 p.m.

“Before, the [notification] letters were supposed to go out on March 1. Now, that is our [application] deadline so it’s going to cause a lot of confusion for the parents,” Assistant Principal Jim Melia said. “We don’t have the ability to contact the people who have dropped off applications already unless they look at our website or newspaper. They are not going to get a phone call or an e-mail from our web server because they are not part of that process yet.”

To apply to choice schools, students must have a minimum of a C average in core classes, pass state standardized tests, such as FCAT and EOC and regularly be academically promoted along with other general admission requirements. Once applications are submitted and reviewed, applicants who meet the criteria have their names placed in a lottery.

The administration has stressed to parents the importance of following school board meetings and reading the newspaper to stay updated on district decisions.

“We don’t know if [the school board] is going to let people in the lottery if they don’t pay their money,” Melia said. “We told parents at the informational meeting that it is their responsibility to make sure that, if there is an application fee, it gets paid.”

School Board Chairwoman Barbara Murray has referred to the current challenges faced by the school district as “the perfect storm.”

“These are difficult times,” she said via email. “State revenue was reduced approximately 60 percent in our capital fund.  Such fund pays our (mortgage) debt, maintenance, facility upgrades and buses. During this period, the state mandated class size and technology with no additional funding.”

In addition, property values have fallen substantially in recent years, adding to the lack of funding. Had voters approved the half-cent sales tax referendum in the November election, the school board says it would not need to find alternative methods of funding.

“The expiration of the quarter-mill property tax is what prompted the half-cent sales tax referendum,” Murray said. “And voters did not vote that in.”

Both Murray and school board member Micheal Krupp say the money collected from the application fee would defray the labor cost for handling the applications.

“The process for the [out of area] application is a matter of reviewing the application then forwarding to the two principals involved and having their staff look at the numbers, the student’s data file, and seating available based upon capacity at the school requested and make a final decision on placement,” Krupp said.

Murray added that there must be safeguards built into the fees for those students who qualify for Brevard County’s free and reduced lunch program.

“I have no details at this time to provide a definition of what the safeguards would include,” she said. “Discussions have included both reduced fees and exemptions.”

Amy Kneessy, Brevard County School Board representative for District 3, declined to comment on the issue.

“Since the board has not voted on this yet, I do not feel comfortable answering your questions,” Kneessy said via e-mail.

Melia said the board faces “uncharted waters” because the budget situation has never been so weak, and Murray agrees.

“It is unfortunate that our revenue shortfall has prompted the board to consider various fees,” she said. “Understand that the board is doing its very best to preserve programs and opportunities for all Brevard students.”