Students at San Benito High School have piled up a big
collective debt in unpaid textbook fines and school fees.
Students at San Benito High School have piled up a big collective debt in unpaid textbook fines and school fees.

How big? About $100,000, according to a recent report to the school board.

We’re aghast that the problem has gotten so out of hand and we can’t help but wonder how and why it has happened. But it seems students have been allowed to go year after year without paying their debts before running into any real consequences. By the time the school forces the issue – say, by refusing to allow a student with unpaid fines or fees to attend prom or participate in commencement – individual debts can total several hundred dollars.

This problem needs to be solved and we welcome action by administrators and the school board to do just that.

A proposal floated recently to prohibit students with unpaid fines and fees from participating in athletics and other school activities would be a good start. This has the dual advantage of holding students responsible and requiring payment before the debt gets too big. But it’s a net that will catch only some students.

The key to solving this problem is making sure that parents are aware that their son or daughter owes money to the school and why. It’s our belief that most parents will do the right thing and make sure the bill gets paid.

If a student loses a $75 textbook, for example, a parent might go ahead and pay the bill – and take the opportunity to have one of those facts-of-life talks with their child about personal responsibility and the need to make good on debts. If their child makes a habit of losing books, parents might choose to require the child to pay the bill out of his or her own savings so that the life lesson seems a little more real.

But in order to do this, parents need to know about the problem. Anyone who has raised children knows that teenagers can’t always be depended upon to share information that might make their parents unhappy.

The school itself needs to take the initiative to ensure that parents are directly informed when their child has an outstanding bill. Letters could be sent to parents at the start of the school year, explaining the school’s policy on payment of fines and fees and informing them of any money owed from the previous year. Follow-up letters could be sent at the end of the first semester and at the end of the school year, bringing the student’s individual ledger up to date.

The school’s new automated telephone system – which can be programmed to contact parents not only at home but also at their place of work and on their cell phone – could be another good tool for sharing this information.

The high school simply can’t afford to allow this problem to continue. The amount collectively now owed by students would be enough to fund nearly two teaching positions for a year.

It’s time to take steps to get this problem taken care of and to make sure that it’s never allowed to get so out of hand again.

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.


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