Bellingham schools providing supplies and reducing fees

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDSeptember 3, 2013 

As our community wakes up Tuesday morning, our yellow buses will be rolling to mark the start of a new school year for thousands of children and their families. Bellingham Public Schools staff have been busy preparing our schools, classrooms and buses, and we're so excited to welcome everyone back to school!

My wife and I have two school-age children and one preschooler so we share in the anticipation of starting anew.

As staff, we want every child and family to feel positive about the start of school. For many families, the expenses that come at this time of year can be overwhelming. It's not only buying a new pair of shoes that fit those growing feet, but there's the traditional school clothing and supply shopping, school pictures, sports and activity fees, course fees ... and the list goes on and on. Throughout the country, a free public education has become over the years, well, not so free.

In Bellingham, we're joining some other national leaders in creating awareness about what we charge families and why, and then taking action to provide some much-needed relief where we can.

We'd like to cover all school-related costs, but our limited resources don't stretch that far. So in the last three years, we have taken some significant steps, first providing school supplies for elementary children, except for a backpack. This year, our middle and high schools joined the cause by eliminating school supply lists, and vastly reducing or eliminating course fees.

I've received many emails this summer from parents expressing their appreciation, including this one: "I have four children in three different schools this coming fall and I can't tell you how nice it is to not be keeping track of which kid needs what supplies, let alone the cost of it all!"

We now buy school supplies in bulk, saving a lot of money and time. In addition, this year we significantly reduced fees for children to participate in athletics and activities. This used to be free for families, but fees were initiated during the recession to prevent cutting programs. Not only do activities and athletics provide a positive, healthy, active way for students to spend time before and after school, they help keep many kids in school. In recent years, we've had a line-up of students seeking scholarship money because they wanted to play, but couldn't afford it.

We also continue to build partnerships with community organizations. These include Operation School Bell, which provides new clothing for children, and the Opportunity Council, which supports our families in many ways and is partnering with us to provide more preschool opportunities inside our elementary schools this fall.

Some families and community members have contacted us because they can and want to give back what they've saved in school supply costs and other fees. We thank them for their continued support of our schools and acknowledge the tremendous support from those who give to our Bellingham Public School Foundation. Since 2011, the foundation has received more than $300,000 in contributions and has granted nearly $100,000 to our school system to fund programs ranging from instructional materials to a summer kindergarten readiness program and much more.

In Bellingham schools, we talk about how it takes all of us working collectively to make the biggest positive impact on children. We call this The Bellingham Promise, our strategic plan that the community helped create in recent years.

The Bellingham Promise represents our community's pledge to empower every child to discover and develop a passion, contribute to their community, and achieve a fulfilling and productive life. We believe compassion and service build community, and together we can achieve more than alone.

Relieving some of the financial hardship for our families is just one of the many ways we can help every child have a successful start to the school year.

Thank you to our community and our dedicated school board for helping us deliver an outstanding public education for every child. Here's to an amazing 2013-14 school year!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Greg Baker is the superintendent of Bellingham Public Schools.

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