On Feb. 3, the Finance Committee of the District 65 School Board recommended that the School Board change the fee structure for Camp Timber-lee. Under the proposed fee structure, the full fee would be equal to the full cost for a student to participate in the program. Student in the reduced-fee lunch program would pay $75, and those in the free-lunch program would pay $25. If any household was unable to pay these fees, they could ask for an administrative waiver.

Kathy Zalewski, Business Manager, and David Wartowski, Director of STEM, presented a memo outlining the new fee structure for the outdoor education program that has been in place for almost 50 years. The two-day, one overnight program is held in the spring in East Troy, Wisconsin, and includes classes to enhance the science curriculum, such as aquatic study, geology, and farm animals study. In addition, students sleep in cabins, roast marshmallows over a campfire, and engage in team building activities.

Currently, Ms. Zalewski said, all families are required to pay a fee, which was $121.25 last school year. She said parents may apply for a fee waiver and that most families who are entitled to participate in the free-lunch program do not pay any portion of the fee; those entitled to participate in the reduced-fee lunch program generally pay a reduced fee. The District receives about $3,000 annually in donations.

Over the last three years, the District has paid about $300,000 to subsidize the program,  or an average of $100,000 per year, Ms. Zalewski said.

In the memo, Ms. Zalewski and Mr. Wartowski recommended that the District implement a multi-tier fee schedule, with a fee of $125 as the full-fee, $75 for students in the reduced-fee lunch program, and $25 for students in the free-lunch program. Ms. Zalewski said this would eliminate the need for families to apply for a waiver, and it would be more equitable. Families who would have difficulty in making these payments could apply for an administrative waiver.

Under this multi-tier fee structure, Ms. Zalewski said the District would incur a larger financial burden. She added that administrators are looking for alternatives to this program.

“We will be facing structural deficits in a couple of years,” Ms. Zalewski said. “We feel that we would at least like to see what’s out there as an alternative to this program.”

Raphael Obafemi, Chief Financial Officer of the District, said, “In view of the financial challenges that the District faces and the need to make sure the students get the best education possible, I’m not sure that’s the best way to spend the money.”

Board member Candance Chow suggested charging the full cost of program to parents who could afford to pay, not including a subsidy for students whose families cannot afford to pay. She said she thought it would be fair to charge families the full cost if they could afford it.

Board President Suni Kartha said she would like to see what the full cost per student is for the program and said it may make sense to increase the fee a little bit more. She added, “I support looking at other options.”

The Committee asked staff to determine the full cost per student and advise the Board at the next Board meeting, which is scheduled for Feb.24.  Students are scheduled to begin enrolling in the program at the end of the month, said Ms. Zalewski.

Larry Gavin

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...