Rock Hill schools are having trouble collecting the $25 "academic fee" that families were asked to pay for each student they enrolled this school year.
As of Oct. 3, three days past the payment deadline, the district's 25 schools had received $152,278, or 59 percent of the $257,069 they expected.
Superintendent Lynn Moody and her staff are discussing ways to collect the remaining $104,791.
For now, she plans to appeal to families.
"Parents thought the money was going into a big pot at the district office," Moody said. "It stays in the schools. If they don't collect those fees, it hurts the individual schools. It's about saying to parents, 'We need your help with this.'"
But what if they still don't pay?
While South Carolina law allows schools to charge "reasonable fees," it's not clear what districts can do to collect.
"There's no statutory guidance in (the law), no litigation that we're aware of and no state legal precedent that applies," S.C. Department of Education spokesman Jim Foster said.
"I think we're in uncharted waters here," school board member Walter Brown said. "It forces us to talk with an attorney to find out what legal ground we're on."
Rock Hill schools added the fee this summer as part of a plan to make up for millions in state budget cuts.
On top of the academic fee, student athletes must now pay $50 to play sports. High school students must pay $350 to enroll in driver's education.
The plan was to let each school keep the academic fees to make up for money the district cut. Schools can spend it on instructional needs, such as supplies, tutors, software and work books.
"The bottom line is the budget was approved with the expectation that these would be paid," Rock Hill schools spokeswoman Elaine Baker said.
Some schools have received more than others.
India Hook Elementary has taken in $7,019.50 of an expected $8,288. Independence Elementary, however, has received just $1,490 of its expected $6,604.
The idea of charging to attend public school rankled some parents from the start.
"Are we private education or public education?" a father asked the school board at a meeting this summer. "Twenty-five dollars really is not much. But it's the principle. Where are we going?"
Fort Mill schools, which have charged an enrollment fee for years, have generally received most of their expected money, Assistant Superintendent Leanne Lordo said.
The district doesn't bother those who don't pay.
"Parents are encouraged to pay the fee at registration time, but accommodations are made for partial payments if necessary," Assistant Superintendent Marty McGinn said.
"There are no punitive consequences for non-payment. We do not hold report cards. Principals just try to work with families."
Some districts withhold text books and report cards from students whose families don't pay, Rock Hill school board member Walter Brown said.
Moody said she wants to avoid that, but she might consider withholding privileges such as parking and attending the prom from high school students who don't pay.
"We want good relationships with our parents," she said. "We said from the beginning, $25 is not worth losing a parent over."
Based on conversations with parents, Moody said, the underlying issue seems to be about haves and have-nots.
"I think the argument is about a deeper societal issue about who has to pay and who doesn't," she said.
By law, schools charging fees must offer a discount to students receiving reduced-price lunch. Students receiving free lunch pay nothing.
More than half of Rock Hill schools' 18,000 students receive free or reduced-price lunch. Those with reduced-price lunch pay an academic fee of $12.50.
Moody plans to meet with principals and come up with a plan to move forward by the end of October.
School board members Brown and Jim Vining said the district should either collect the money owed or refund families who have paid.
Some of the money is trickling in.
At The Children's School at Sylvia Circle, Principal Sandra Lindsay-Brown said, "I still have people coming in saying, 'I totally forgot.'"