The Calgary Board of Education is dealing with a high number of unpaid school fees, and is now sending those fees to a collection agency.

The board has asked a collection agency to recover the $1 million in unpaid fees from parents of about 4,000 students for the 2011-12 school year.

Unpaid fees include fees associated with busing, supplies, and lunchtime supervision.

The board insists it has to take action.

“For parents who don't declare a hardship and who are using the services, we then try to collect on the fees. And the collection process involves many, many steps, including multiple letters, and when the accounts are more than 200 days overdue, only then do they go to collections,” said Richard Peter with the Calgary Board of Education.

The same policy is in place in Red Deer.

“Our practice is to take unpaid fees at the end of the year and assign those to a collection agency,” said Cody McClintock with the Red Deer Public School Board.

Locally, Edmonton Public Schools and Edmonton Catholic Schools do not use collection agencies for unpaid student fees.

“If a parent can’t pay then the school absorbs the cost,” said Lori Nagy, spokesperson for Edmonton Catholic Schools.

“If they can’t pay the full fee, then sometimes they can pay part of it or they can reduce it and pay a small monthly fee.”

But news that other Alberta school boards do have some local parents shaking their heads.

“I think that’s really nasty,” said Terry McAllister. “There’s got to be other ways to get the money.”

“I think that the public education dollars should help with that,” said Barbara Jaffray.

Still school boards in Calgary and Red Deer insist they also show compassion for those who can’t afford the fees.

“We do an awful lot to make sure that we do what we can to collect and make allowance for those people who simply are unable to pay,” McClintock said.

“There are many ways for parents who can't afford them to say 'I can't afford them,' and to be let out of the fees,” said Peter.

Peter says the volume of unpaid fees in Calgary is higher than it has ever been before.

The board says calling a collection agency is a last resort.

With files from Bill Fortier