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      High costs vs. quality education in Mendon

      Four hundred forty dollars and seventy-nine cents ... that's the amount per student the state of Illinois says is needed but it will not pay to the Mendon Unity school district.

      A local bank is helping parents cover some of the cost of technology upgrades, but that's not the only issue that parents are concerned with.

      About 686 students walk through the doors of the Mendon school everyday. The challenge for Superintendent Brian Kurz is to make sure those kids get the best education possible. That education includes these laptop computers as one of the primary learning tools the students are using.

      "Students need to be engaged in what their learning and teachers have found that one of the really successful ways to do that is with technology," Kurz said.

      The school is leasing laptops on a four year basis from Apple and because of the uncertainty of state money, part of that leasing fee had to be passed onto parents. That cost was between $100 and $150 depending upon the grade level the student was in.

      As a way to help ease that financial burden, a special loan program was set up through First Bankers Trust to spread the payments of the loans out over the 10 month school year.

      "We set a maximum of $800 per family which that would cover most of the costs with the software and the fees associated with it," David Rakers with First Bankers Trust said. "Keeping in mind that some of the families have more than one child that have the computers so in a lot of cases there were families with two or three kids that we were helping with."

      The district was also forced for the first time to add an activity fee which helped preserve extracurricular activities in the district. That fee is $50 for kids in Kindergarten up to 6th grade and $100 dollars for kids in grades 7 -12.

      Parents concerned about the increased fees spoke to the members of the school board Wednesday night.

      One parent we spoke to says she is concerned about paying a fee for activities some of her kids do not take part in. "I just wish there was maybe some sort of scale as to how many activities your children participate in as to how gradual the fee is that you pay for per student," Victoria Campbell said.

      Superintendent Kurz is quick to point out that he and the district understand the financial challenges that these increased fees mean to parents. But he is committed to not compromising the quality of the education the students under his care are getting.

      "This district values finding ways to provide an excellent education for kids even in the midst of hard financial times." Kurz said.

      Like many parents who spoke Wednesday night, Campbell agrees that the district has done a great job despite the loss of funding from the state.

      Superintendent Kurz says he welcomes comments and questions from concerned parents as the school board moves forward with this and other issues.