Families in Indianapolis Public Schools who have not paid textbook rental fees will soon be hearing from a collection agency.
The IPS Board voted unanimously Thursday to hire a company to collect on the outstanding bills.
More than 3,000 IPS parents have delinquent textbook fees from last school year. That has left more than a half million dollar deficit for the district, officials say.
More than 5,500 bills were sent for the 2016-17 year for a total of $846,221 in textbook rental fees. But as of this month, 3,213 parents had not paid last year’s fee leaving a deficit of $550,693.
Textbook rental fees can range from $100 to $200 per student each year depending on the grade. A majority of IPS students qualify for free textbook through a state reimbursement program for low-income families.
“We want to ensure that fees do get paid when families can pay it,” IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee says.
The Statewide Credit Association of Indianapolis will try to collect on the outstanding bills as part of a $22,000 contract with IPS. The company is authorized to send three letters to each family requesting payment.
After this phase, legal action is possible -- but that would require a separate approval by the board, says Weston Young, district chief financial manager.
President Mary Ann Sullivan urged the district to continue lobbying state lawmakers for more textbook funding during Tuesday's board review session. The Generally Assembly recently approved a two-year state budget with $39 million for textbook reimbursements for each year.
“It is not pleasant to to think about having to collect these fees,” Sullivan says of hiring a collection agency. “I remember paying those fees and it is significant.”
School districts contracting with a bill collector is not new.
The Statewide Credit Association handles collection services for seven Marion County schools districts and 135 school districts statewide. The company reports a 78 percent to 92 percent recovery rate, according to IPS officials.
IPS expects to collect 50 percent to 78 percent of the 2016-17 bills through the letter writing phase of the collection process, says Young.
The Statewide Credit Association will charge IPS $7 for each unpaid bill.
IPS officials say families will have an easier time paying for text books and other expenses in the 2017-18 school year. A new website will soon be launched that allows families to use a credit card for various school expenses, Young says.
Families will receive textbook rental bills during the first few weeks of the new school year. Classes begin July 31.