SAN TAN VALLEY — The Florence Unified School District Governing Board on Tuesday night changed its policy on fees for students taking home and using laptops provided by the district.
In the past students’ families would have to pay $50 a year, but that policy was revised Tuesday night.
FUSD Chief Financial Officer Denice Erickson said in place of the mandatory fee of $50 for each of the 8,000 laptops provided to students, families would have the option of paying $50 for the insurance on the laptop in case something were to happen to the computer.
“The difference is it is insurance rather than a fee, and it is optional,” Erickson said, adding the fee in the past had been mandatory.
The insurance fee, she said, is not a mandatory fee like before and those fees can be waived.
FUSD Superintendent Chris Knutsen took exception to resident Gary Gartner’s claims that the fees cannot ever be waived.
Knutsen said the option of waiving the fees has always been there.
“Waiving fees happens all the time,” Knutsen said.
Over the last five years the district has waived $258,634 in fees across the board, an average of $51,687 a year.
Gartner, who addressed the board before the vote on the policy revision, said he sent an email to the district Aug. 16 regarding the district’s imposed and required laptop fees.
However in the workshop meeting before the board voted on and approved the policy revision in the meeting, the revision was explained to the trustees.
For more than a year, Gartner said he has been questioning the approved laptop fees, and in particular that the claim cannot be waived, which Knutson said after the meeting that this statement is incorrect.
“The sad part is that the district has enriched itself by intentionally misleading the public, especially the poor, thereby receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Gartner said.
Gartner said he believes the assessment of laptop fees violate Arizona law since they are required for student learning and have taken the place of textbooks.
“I think it is time for the district to do the right thing by its taxpayers,” he said.
Gartner said he is saddened that he never received a response from any of the board members and that something like this could have been slipped by them twice.
"You, as elected officials, are supposed to be our representatives with the district, whose main job is to keep the district from falling outside the law, would have missed something this major,” he said. “It is time for each of you to start reading and questioning everything the district leadership puts before you and doing what’s right by the public you represent.”
Gartner then in his prepared statement told Knutson he was disappointed in him since the superintendent had never taken ownership of this issue.
“You are a great example to your staff of what not to do, and it’s embarrassing,” he said.