Teachers are expected to play a lot of roles in the classroom -- educator, social worker, disciplinarian. But the role of cashier may not be necessary much longer.
After auditors repeatedly found cash- and check-handling policies in the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan schools were not always being followed, district leaders decided to do something about it. The result is a universal FeePay system, first launched in 2011, that will be used in 75 districts this fall and could one day be in schools nationwide.
"Our goal was to reduce the amount of cash- and check-handling that was going on in our schools," said Jeff Solomon, Rosemount's finance director.
Districts have long had online payment systems for things such as lunches and community-education courses, but buying a yearbook or paying for a field trip typically meant parents sending in cash or a check. Once that money got to school, each building might have handled it differently.
Rosemount district leaders wanted a one-stop shop where parents could pay for everything online with a credit card. Area school district collaborative Technology and Information Education Services, or TIES, was one of the few "serious" bidders for the project, Solomon said.
Programming the new system fell to Chad Caswell, who has since become head of TIES' e-commerce division. Caswell says the creation of FeePay was a public-private partnership between TIES and Arux Software in Woodbury and Bank Card Services Worldwide.
"If I can pay my garbage bill online, why can't I easily do business with my school district?" Caswell said. This was the problem the three organizations set out to solve.
But what seemed like a simple idea was difficult to implement because of the many different parts that had to work together, he said. Staff from different buildings and departments all had to be able to use the same system.
"That was part of the secret sauce, tying all these things together," Caswell said. "We wanted a consistent user experience."
The software is sophisticated enough that the same portal parents use for paying for drivers education can be used by students at Farmington High School to run the student store.
Rosemount rolled out the FeePay system in stages over three school years and parents have been quick to adopt it. Last school year, 87 percent of school fees were paid through the online system. Of the roughly $5 million in school fees Rosemount collects each year, $4.3 million came through the FeePay site this school year.
"What this system showed us was that it was an unmet need for our parents," Solomon said.
For Kris Ericksen, whose children attended Eastview High School in Apple Valley, the FeePay system has been helpful both as a parent and as a leader of the high school dance team booster club. Her only criticism is that some parents had trouble logging on initially.
"I think it is great for parents," Ericksen said. "Once you got on, it was super user-friendly and easy to use."
Accepting credit cards does mean the district has to pay a small percentage of the transaction to credit card companies. Solomon says that the district has built that into its budget as a cost of doing business and that the efficiency of online payments more than makes up for the cost.
Other district leaders are realizing the benefit of giving parents one place online to pay school fees. The Association of School Business Officials, an international professional organization, awarded Solomon with the Pinnacle of Achievement Award for his work creating FeePay.
Roseville, Stillwater and Centennial are among the 75 districts expected to use the FeePay system in the fall. TIES is in talks with districts in Wisconsin and also hopes to expand into Michigan.
"We think this is so unique, we have a patent pending on it," Caswell said. "We have not seen anything like it in the education technology space at all."
By Christopher Magan, Saint Paul Pioneer Press, July 13, firstname.lastname@example.org