Monday, September 10, 2007

The costs of volunteering

You want somebody to help out at the school, but you also want to make sure that the kids are safe.

The solution in this case, as in many others, is to fingerprint the people who want to help. And fingerprinting costs. Which leads to a problem:

Kids at Wilson Elementary School missed out last year on The Big Fresno Fair and other field trips. The problem: Fresno Unified -- home to many of the state's poorest families -- wanted parents to pay 50 bucks to help out.

For many, the fee to cover fingerprinting costs was too much.

But Fresno Unified came up with a solution:

Fresno Unified officials have decided to start picking up the $50 tab, because they want more parents to volunteer....

The district plans to pay the $50 for a designated number of volunteers who help out at schools that receive federal funds under the Title I program, which is intended to aid poor students. Some details have yet to be worked out. For example, the district hasn't decided how many volunteers it will pay for, Bedi said.

But she said officials hope it will make a difference. Schools often count on parents to help escort children when they are split into smaller groups on field trips to places such as the zoo or the fair.

"We realize how important parental involvement is to student success," Bedi said. "We don't want fingerprinting to be a deterrent."

This was especially a deterrent at Wilson Elementary.

Fresno Unified, the fourth-largest school district in the state with about 74,000 students, has 102 school sites. All but seven receive Title I money....

Wilson is a Title I school. It has so much poverty that every student qualifies to receive a free breakfast and lunch.

Yet, at the same time, you don't want to do away with fingerprinting.

Poverty wasn't part of the equation when district officials began to strictly enforce fingerprinting of volunteers in 2005 after parents complained that a registered sex offender had been helping out at Hamilton Elementary School. At the time, district officials were concerned about the student safety....

But after hearing that Wilson students were missing out on field trips, began.

Board members said they don't recall voting for the fee, and administrators say it's unclear who approved it.

The superintendent or someone he designates has the authority to charge the fee, but Bedi said she was not immediately able to find a record of whether Superintendent Michael Hanson or his predecessor, Chuck McCully, made the decision.

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