Parents at UCLA's Corinne A. Seeds University Elementary School are up in arms because tuition has been raised to $1,500 a year, a $600 increase that may force some students out of the prestigious institution.
The school, operated by the UCLA Graduate School of Education and located on the university's Westwood campus, was established in 1882 as a laboratory for education research and teacher training.
The school's 450 students have been chosen from all socioeconomic and racial backgrounds, reflecting the national census, said Richard C. Williams, associate professor and director of the school. One-third of the students are members of minority groups, he said.
Because of the school's reputation for innovation and educational excellence, it has a long waiting list, Williams said. For next year, the school has about 900 applications for an estimated 140 openings. Students are chosen randomly by census categories and represent a broad range of academic abilities, he said.
Relies on Fees
The school receives about $1 million a year in state aid, but it also relies heavily on funds from student fees, according to Lewis C. Solmon, dean of UCLA's Graduate School of Education.
A deficit of about $60,000 has accumulated because operating costs have been increasing, but student fees have not risen for the past three or four years, he said.
Parents contend that the school's commitment to include children from all income levels is being violated by the imposition of a $1,500 annual fee, which they say will hit middle-income families the hardest.
Low-income families receive scholarship aid and those with high incomes probably can afford the increase, but middle-income families may be squeezed out, said Horacio R. Fonseca, a West Los Angeles resident who has two children at the school.
"We feel that those of us in the middle (and) low-middle income bracket are being stuck with the bill (for increased fees)," Fonseca said in a March 17 letter written on behalf of parents to UCLA Chancellor Charles E. Young.
By increasing the fees so dramatically, Fonseca said, the school stands to lose its ability to reflect a cross section of the population "simply because the dean wants to pay off a deficit and establish a surplus (of funds in the school budget)."
Solmon said in an interview last week that he originally considered an increase to $2,000 a year but eventually settled on $1,500 after meetings with parents from the school's policy advisory committee.
Solmon rejected the parents' proposal of $1,400 as "inadequate," stating in a letter that it could result in a continued deficit. "To insure that (University Elementary School) survives, we must make certain that it has a fiscally sound future," he said.
The $1,500 fees will produce $600,000 to $700,000 in revenue, part of which will go to increased scholarships, Solmon said. Williams estimated that the new tuition would bring in an additional $150,000 annually.
In the past year, the school gave about $80,000 in scholarships, but next year at least $150,000 in aid will be given, officials said.
Solmon said the new fee "enables us to cover more of the needs of parents who are indeed needy, but requires parents who can afford more than $900 to pay what they can." The financial burden of parents with more than one child at the school will be taken into account in awarding scholarships, he said.
School officials estimate that the parents of about 150 students will be able to pay the full $1,500, while the others will receive partial or full scholarships. This year 65 students received full scholarships.
In justifying the increase, Solmon said that the school is "a great bargain," compared to private elementary schools, which he said charge as much as $4,500 a year.
Even at $1,500, the parents' fee does not nearly cover the annual cost of about $4,000 a year to educate a child at the Seeds school, Solmon said.
The tuition increase at Seeds comes at the same time that UCLA has announced plans to close the Fernald School, which is right next door. Fernald, which is to be shut down June 30, is a laboratory school specializing in research on children with learning disabilities.
Chancellor Young said he is closing Fernald so the university can use the funds for research on childhood disabilities. Solmon said in his letter to parents that the Seeds school "must continue to buck the trend (toward the) disappearance of university-related laboratory schools."
Fonseca, a doctoral student in history at UCLA, said parents view the fee increase (first announced as $1,700 for students in the upper grades and $1,500 for younger students, but then amended to $1,500 for all) as being "grossly inflationary, unwarranted and way out of line."
He said the $1,500 being charged even for the half-day program for the youngest children is comparable to what it costs students in undergraduate and graduate studies.
Fonseca, who teaches at Los Angeles Mission College to earn money while completing his Ph.D. at UCLA, said it will take "an extraordinary sacrifice" for him to keep his youngsters at Seeds.
"It may be necessary for me to even further delay the completion of my graduate studies in order to see to it they are educated in what many of us consider to be one of the best elementary schools in the nation," Fonseca said in his letter to Young.
Among the alumni are many national and community leaders including Harvard University President Derek Bok, and past directors include educators John I. Goodlad and Madeline Hunter, Williams said. In 1982, University Elementary School took on the name of Corinne A. Seeds, who served as the school's principal in the 1930s, '40s and '50s, Williams said.
Next year, Williams said, the school will adopt a completely non-graded format in which students will proceed at their own pace rather than according to pre-established grade levels. The school is for children ages 3 years and 9 months to 12 years.
Fonseca said that school officials have encouraged parents to keep their children at the school through the completion of the upper elementary program, to keep the student base for research as stable as possible.
Parents said that they view this long-term attendance request as an implied contract that the school is violating by raising the fees. Fonseca said in his letter that parents feel there is a "potential for litigation" against the school for an alleged breach of contract.
PHOTO: The school's woodsy setting and its reputation for innovation and educational excellence have created a long waiting list, officials said. / CASSY COHEN / Los Angeles Times Students are picked to represent all races, economic groups.
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