March 15, 2011 in City

Parents can soon use plastic to pay Spokane school fees

By The Spokesman-Review
 
By the numbers

$1.95: Fee charged to make an online payment
$15,800: Estimated annual savings to the district
$200,000: Outstanding amount currently owed in school fees

Fees for school students, especially teenagers, can really pile up.

With parents strapped for time, fewer people carrying cash or checks and more using plastic to pay even routine expenses, accepting credit cards was inevitable, school officials say.

“It’s just another way for parents to manage their cash flow,” said Linda McDermott, executive director of finance at Spokane Public Schools.

Starting around spring break, the district’s high school parents will be able to use a credit or debit card online to pay their kids’ debt to the district. The same option for elementary and middle schools students is scheduled to be available in the fall.

Although a recent national study warned that the average credit card balances being carried by Spokane residents are among the largest in the nation, school officials say the district’s decision to begin accepting electronic payments is based on convenience.

“This has been something that our students, staff, parents and patrons have been asking for, for a long time,” said Mark Anderson, associate superintendent.

Parents in Spokane Public Schools are already able to go online and add money to their child’s account for meals, but now they will also be able to pay for lost books, sports camps, class fees, a child’s before- and after-school care, or anything for which the district charges students.

Other districts are moving in the same direction. Mead School District’s high schools are already accepting credit and debit cards for fees. Central Valley School District anticipates being able to take plastic at its high schools in the fall.

The convenience of being able to pay online in Spokane Public Schools will come with a fee of $1.95 per transaction, Anderson said. The charge will offset the cost of processing credit and debit cards.

“All credit cards will be accepted,” McDermott said. “We wanted our patrons to be able to use whatever card they have available to them. I do think multiple options for payment is important. It is encouraged that parents use a debit card instead of a credit card if they have it.”

The district is hoping to eventually add an electronic check option too, she added.

Credit and debit cards will only be accepted online – not in the district office or at the schools. For parents who don’t have access to a computer at home, the district plans to eventually have a computer available at each school, Anderson said.

With the convenience fee, plus staff efficiencies by not handling as many checks and cash, the new system will amount to an annual savings of $15,800, according to analysis done by McDermott.

Also, it should help the district collect the outstanding $200,000 currently owed in fees. “One of the goals for implementation of this is that parents would be able to pay fees easier,” McDermott said.


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