It’s costing John Keen $1,967 to send two daughters to Riverside-Brookfield High School this year.
“It’s a lot of money,” said Keen, a member of the District 208 Board of Education. “It beats paying Catholic school tuition. RB is a tremendous high school, perfect size. We have a good core of teachers, so it’s a great value.”
The Keens are only one of many families that are writing four figure checks to RBHS this year.
The common denominator for most of these families is that they have more than one child at RBHS who are taking a multitude of Advanced Placement courses often combined with playing a sport or being involved in other activities.
DeDe Keen’s bill alone came to $1,105. She is taking five AP classes and running cross country.
Those AP classes could save money in the long run. Keen’s eldest child, Joanna, graduated in May from the University of Illinois in only three years, because of the college credit she earned taking AP classes at RBHS.
“It’s better paying it now than paying college tuition later, that’s the way I look at it,” Keen said.
But even apart from AP classes, which cost a minimum of $91, a fee set by the College Board which administers the AP exam, RBHS’s required fees outstrip those of other local high schools.
RB’s basic registration fee is a hefty $200, and there are a host of other mandatory fees such as a $30 technology fee. Many courses, even non-AP classes, have extra fees attached. Photography II costs $70 extra, Honors English 10 will set you back an additional $35, Consumer Economics costs an extra $20, to name a few.
Playing on a sports team costs $200 for the first sport, $150 for the second sport and $100 for the third. Competitive activities cost $100 and performance activities cost $75. The fee to participate in the marching band increased to $100 from $15 this year to help pay for new uniforms. RBHS even charges a $25 fee to change a course schedule.
The school added the pay-to-participate athletic and activity fees in the wake of the defeat of a tax referendum in 2011. It has also steadily raised the basic registration fee, which was $130 five years ago.
“We try to insist that everything is aligned with costs, if possible,” Keen said.
At Lyons Township High School the basic textbook rental fee is just $75. LTHS charges a $25 student support fee, comparable to RB’s $30 technology fee. And LTHS students also pay anywhere from $25 to $175 in so called consumables: paperback books, workbooks, and supplies for classes, according to handout from the school. But LTHS does not charge a fee to participate on sports teams.
Oak Park and River Forest High School charges a $320 instructional and materials fee as its basic registration/textbook rental fee. Freshman at OPRF pay an additional $50, sophomores $220 (which includes driver education), juniors $35, and seniors $70. At OPRF students pay a flat $55 fee to play on a sports team. OPRF generally does not charge additional fees for specific courses.
RBHS charges $325, the maximum that the state allows, for driver education while LT charges $150.
Required fees are waived for students who come from families whose income is low enough to qualify for the federal free lunch program. About 13 percent of RB students qualify for fee waivers, according the District 208 Chief Financial Officer Tim McGinnis.
For other families the fees can sting.
Char McGovern paid $1,479 to register three children at RB last month, but she thinks it’s worth it, because her three children, including twin juniors, are taking a combined five AP classes.
“I’m a single parent and I have to budget my money over the year for this, but they’re getting a good quality education,” McGovern said.
The fees at RBHS don’t always end at registration. Many courses require additional fees after the school year starts for items such as Spanish notebooks.
“I think it’s annoying that you have to buy the workbooks after [the school year begins],” said junior Erin McGovern.
District 208 Superintendent Kevin Skinkis said the administration is aware of that complaint and is working to be able to charge all course fees during registration.
“One of the things we’re trying to change this year with some of the courses and for the future would be so that the parents know the fee balance at registration because we did get some concerns from parents that they’re paying for a book and then two weeks later they had to buy a workbook,” Skinkis said. “They would rather just pay everything at registration and that’s what we’re trying to work out.”
The RBHS price tag for junior Garrett Snyder was $848 — he is taking four AP classes and is a member of the band —and that’s not counting the $200 he will pay to play volleyball in the spring.
“I didn’t expect it to be quite that high because, he’s not playing football this year,” said Garrett’s dad, Chuck Snyder, an unsuccessful candidate for the District 208 school board in 2013.
Joe Fosselman was a little shocked that it cost $866 to register his daughter Grace for her sophomore year. Big ticket items on Grace’s bill included driver education, band and AP Computer Science.
“When I was growing up, public school was free,” Fosselman joked.
Fosselman speculated that the high fees RBHS charges are related to the referendum’s defeat. He said he moved to Brookfield because of the school and didn’t mind paying the fee because the AP courses could result in his daughter earning college credits.
“The reason we moved to Brookfield was because of the excellent high school here,” Fosselman said.
Jennifer Lucas of Brookfield said that she paid about $1,200 to register two sons, a senior and a sophomore, at RB this year and she will have to shell out $400 more come basketball season.
But Lucas, who has had two other children graduate from RB says that she thinks it is well worth it considering that her sons are taking five AP classes between them.
“RB’s a gift to our neighborhood,” Lucas said. “I’m good with paying the taxes and paying the fees. It pays for itself.”
Other parents noted that compared to a private school RB is still a bargain. Tuition at Fenwick High School is $13,600.
Ann Marie Nuccio shelled out $1,475 for three children this year and she did not even buy a yearbook ($45 for each one ordered, if purchased during registration) or pay the $20 activity fee that allows students free admission to home sports events.
“I don’t know what other schools charge in the suburbs, but it’s reasonable considering I don’t have to pay for private education and I believe they’re getting a good education here,” Nuccio said.