Welcome to Laurie Goodman's blog. I use this space to share news and opinions about education and schools in Ridgewood, the state of New Jersey and the nation, in addition to other issues I'm personally interested in. I invite you to share your thoughts, feelings, questions or opinions, too, by posting comments on any blog entry. Please observe basic courtesy -- keep your comments focused on issues, no personal attacks or bullying, please. Contact me directly at: lauriegood@mac.com

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Thumbs up & down: online payment system.

Talking with some friends (also Ridgewood parents) about the announcement that the school district has moved to a new system for online payments for things like activity fees, lunches, etc. One friend complained that the district is now "nickel and diming" us with the $3.50 transaction fee for online payments. She said something like, "the system was working fine before, and it was free!" Another parent commented that the District had successfully found a new revenue stream.

I give a mixed thumbs up and thumbs down on this. On the one hand, a better online payment system, that lets parents "load" their account with cash and then use it as necessary, seems good. I never did the online lunch ordering with my kids, so I'm not sure how it works if you order a lunch and then don't end up using it. Do you get your money back? It seems like with this system, you could order lunches but then if your child doesn't actually receive a lunch, then your account won't be charged? That's what it sounds like to me. I also like that now high school students will be able to draw on the account to buy lunch. Previously there was never a cashless way to get lunch at RHS. I don't know how it works, though. (Swipe your ID card? Do they even have magnetic stripes?)

I guess I can see an advantage to being able to check my account online in Skyward, then make payments, etc., in one place. (Although I notice that the instructions say you have to do activity fee payments and lunch payments separately, so that's not such a time saver.) I read that the system will allow me to "monitor" my child's food selections...I'm not sure what that means exactly. If kids are in elementary school, there isn't a "selection" is there? Don't they just get whatever is served that day? Maybe it means middle school and high school. Eh. Maybe that's important for some people to know if your kid had a sandwich or a cookie. I guess I'm neutral on that feature.

On the other hand, it does irk me that the District says they are charging the $3.50 as a "convenience fee." It's not really more convenient for me to use Skyward vs. Community Pass. Whether I click on this URL or that URL, neither one is more convenient than the other.

It might have been better if the District had explained that the previous processing of online payments with Community Pass also cost $$ per transaction -- only in the past, the cost was absorbed by the District. It was never "free." It was just free for parents. There is a difference. (From what I understand, the District was spending around $30,000 per year between the user fee and the transaction fees.)

The reality is, now the cost of processing online transactions will be paid for by only those parents using the service, instead of being paid for by all taxpayers. This seems fair to me. I just think it wasn't explained well.

So I give the new online payment system a thumbs up, but the communications about it a thumbs down.


Sara E. said...

Well reviewed Laurie. I am curious about how it will work for the high school.

Anonymous said...

The way you explained about the costs makes it more reasonable. The BOE needs to be explain things better upfront.

Anonymous said...

Seems to me, if 1,000 families order lunch 10 times, there is $35,000 in fees paid by the taxpayer. Where is the savings?

Laurie said...

Good point, @8:08 AM.

Anonymous said...

It is saving the BOE money, and shifting the cost to the parents using the feature. I would hope that they would adjust the fee annually to attempt to keep it at breakeven.