DSM: Thoughts on Tuition Structure

From: Dawn Harkness (dawn@harkness.net)
Date: Sat Nov 17 2001 - 10:01:19 EST

The current SVS tuition structure sets a tuition amount for the first child
in a family. The second child is charged 75% of that amount, and the third
and subsequent children are charged 50%. Last year this meant that single
child families were charged about $500 more than they would have been if
there were a flat rate for all students. Families with two children were
charged approximately the flat rate per child, and families with three or
more children were charged less than the flat rate per child.

Last spring the Assembly was informed that the proportion of multi-child
families had increased to the point that we faced a tuition shortfall. We
were asked to reaffirm the current policy, and to further increase tuition
in order to cover the shortfall. I voiced my objections to the current
policy in the context of this discussion. I clearly was not the only one
who thought we should re-evaluate this policy, since the Assembly voted to
have the Trustees study it again.

Now, this year, the Trustees have issued a call for papers to the SVS
Assembly. Here, in brief, are my thoughts on this subject.

We charge one rate for everything else at SVS, from pencils to
dances, to ski trips, to the week of camping at Nickerson, because
fundamentally we think that it is the fair thing to do. Everybody pays the
same rate for everything, except tuition. I fully understand that not all
multi-child families are wealthy, and that some families need the tuition
discount in order to afford to send all of their children to SVS. But, as a
result of the current tuition policy, SVS gives financial aid to some
wealthy people at the expense of some families with less money and fewer
children. This means that there are parents of single children who are
struggling to subsidize the tuition of people who can afford to pay the full
rate for each of their children. We charge the highest rate to some of
those who can least afford it, including those students who pay their own
tuition because they have been cut off from financial support by their
deadbeat parents. If a family (or student) can't pay the full tuition at
the beginning of each year, we charge them an additional amount (I believe
it is 10%) for the privilege of paying over time. We have had kids
struggling to make tuition payments while working at barely better than
minimum wage jobs for the benefit of wealthy families who spend more on
their vacations than those kids are living on in a year. I'm not blaming
those more wealthy families, because we don't even ask them to pay their
fair share. They pay what we ask them to pay.

I think we should charge the same amount for each child unless the family
decides that they need financial assistance from the rest of the community.
This is commonly referred to as a sliding scale, and many kinds of
businesses offer it. If any multiple child family decides they need to take
advantage of the tuition discount at the old rate (25% and 50%), they take
it. We're not going to question their decision. Not even if they drive a
BMW, not even if they live in a mansion, not even if they hit the lottery
for $100,000,000. They decide. And the school budgets assuming that
every multi-child family takes the discount. Any monies collected above the
budgeted amount would go into a fund to defray the costs for tuition-paying
students and parents of single children who request financial assistance.

Much of what I have written here I said at last spring's epic Assembly
meeting. Since then I have thought more about this topic, discussed it with
friends and family, and refined my position (of which the above is just a
bare-bones version). I'm sure I will tweak it still more before I submit my
paper to the SVS Journal.

Since that meeting I have also been roundly criticized, my position has been
distorted, and my motives and right to raise this issue have been
questioned. I remain unapologetic about opposing a policy which I think has
outlived its usefulness, especially when to go along with it year after year
means that we raise the tuition rates on those least able to afford it more
frequently than we might otherwise have to. I am an Assembly member and
this is a matter which, according to SVS's by-laws, falls squarely on the
Assembly. Expressing my opinion on this subject is therefore perfectly
appropriate. The fact that I am only a parent should not automatically
reduce my proposal to something not in keeping with the philosophy of a
Sudbury model school.

I'm very interested to hear what this listserve thinks about this issue.

Dawn Harkness


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