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Unpaid school fees? Districts can go after state income tax

Students West AurorHigh School recieve their schedules for upcoming school year Wednesday August 1 2012. | Katherine Peters~Sun-Times Media

Students at West Aurora High School recieve their schedules for the upcoming school year on Wednesday August 1, 2012. | Katherine Peters~Sun-Times Media

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Towns tapping into state debt program

Several towns in the Fox Valley are signing on with the Local Debt Recovery Program, which will allow them to tap into residents’ state income tax returns in order to collect on unpaid taxes or other debts.

Aurora has approved its participation for the program but is still in the administrative set-up phase and has not yet begun collecting funds.

Batavia also has declared its intentions to join the program and is filing paperwork with the state.

In Oswego, city staff are still reviewing the program. A resolution could be brought to the Village Board in about a month, according to Finance Director Mark Horton.

Waubonsee Community College also has signed on. The college has completed all its paperwork for the program and is in a testing phase. The college expects to begin collecting owed money sometime in fall or spring.

— Jenette Sturges

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Updated: September 6, 2012 6:02AM

Sandwich families who owe old school fees will pay up, one way or another.

The Sandwich School Board has approved a policy to use the Illinois comptroller’s new program that allows school districts and other local governing bodies to recoup debts owed through state income tax returns.

Sandwich is the first school district in the Fox Valley to take advantage of the Local Debt Recovery Program, which deducts unpaid school fees or other back debts from state income tax returns.

And representatives of other districts said that, now that they’ve heard of the program, they might follow suit.

“We’ll watch and see how it works for (Sandwich), if it creates an uproar, and we’ll make a decision then,” said Kris Monn, assistant superintendent for finance at Batavia Public Schools.

Superintendents and spokesmen for area districts said that unpaid school fees can cut into school budgets, especially involving extras such as materials for special programs and activities and the supplies needed for art or music classes.

Unpaid school fees, however, are a drop in the bucket compared to unpaid funding by the state.

“I can tell you that it is very small in comparison to the amount of uncollected debt we have from the state,” said Kaneland Superintendent Jeff Schuler. “Kind of funny that they (the state) would have a program allowing us to collect through income tax from individuals that are behind in payments by a couple hundred dollars when they are behind a couple million.”

Sandwich is owed roughly $7,000 from families who have not paid their school fees.

That’s a small sum compared to other districts in the Fox Valley, where unpaid fees start to add up. In East Aurora, uncollected fees average $56,906 a year.

East Aurora, like many other school districts in the Fox Valley, contracts with a private firm, Transworld Systems, at a cost of about $10 per account to collect owed school fees. In most districts, that fee is added on to what debtors owe.

Transworld has collected, on average, $24,603 a year in back school fees for East Aurora.

West Aurora just recently ended a contract with a private collections firm, but an administrator said it was too early to tell whether they would adopt the Illinois comptroller’s program or go with another private collections agency. Students with unpaid fees at West Aurora are also barred from marching across the stage at graduation.

Smaller school districts — most of them with much smaller amounts of unpaid debts — are taking a different tact.

Hinckley-Big Rock has set up payment plans for families on tight budgets, according to Superintendent Pete Pasteris.

Yorkvile also is encouraging struggling families to pay what they can.

“We do not want children to miss educational opportunities due to family hardship,” said Superintendent Scott Wakeley.

While collectors won’t be calling Somonauk parents, their students will have to sit out of extracurricular activities until fees are paid.

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