School official takes a second look at tuition fee

Smith

Border and out-of-county students were again in the spotlight at a recent school board meeting last Wednesday.

On May 15, Superintendent Greg Smith proposed that families of students who attend Richmond County schools but live outside the county pay a fee of $588 for the 2013-2014 school year.

The alternative proposal was drastically different from previous recommendations made by the county’s Non-Resident Student Committee (NRSC).

In fact, Smith said in a follow-up interview that the tuition proposal was not consistent with the committee’s most recent position on the issue as of May 9.

“The majority of the committee members felt strongly that the tuition fee is not warranted, and [they] do not recommend it,” said Smith.

He added that a majority of the committee felt that the exclusion of non-resident students from Richmond County schools and the drop in revenue that would result from said exclusion would be detrimental to the school system.

But while the NRSC remained against imposing fees on non-resident students, the school board had directed Smith to further research the tuition issue during their April 10 meeting.

“At that point, the onus is placed upon me to comply with the request of the board,” said Smith. “The board, I feel, is responding to the suggestions and to the public voices that say we need to look at a student fee.

“There’s a balance between, if we do a student fee, what it might look like, how it may be structured and how you would come to student fee,” Smith continued.

He did note, however, that the school division, under the proposed policy, would exempt current border students from having to pay tuition.

He developed a formula to determine that a recommendation of $588 most closely reflected county taxpayers’ contributions to RCPS.

Smith based his formula on the contribution of the median valued home in Richmond County towards the school budget, which was estimated at $155,200.

When questioned by Dist. 3 School Board Member Pat Pugh about charging tuition to families with more than one border student, Smith replied it was a discussion that the school board needed to have.

“I think that we probably need to limit the contribution per family,” said Smith.

Dist. 5 School Board Member Ken Blackley asked Smith about the policy on parents outside the county who already had one or more children enrolled in the schools, but had another that would start kindergarten during or after the 2013-2014 school year.

“It depends on how we construct this,” said Smith. “If we base this on student numbers, certainly [the parents] would be given preference if they already have a student in the school system.

“Now, do we want to give them certainty of it?  That’s up to the school,” Smith added.

The non-residential student attendance policy, developed by Smith and modeled after similar criteria used by Winchester City Public Schools, restricted border student membership at RCPS to 7 percent of the total student population, which is slightly above current enrollment numbers.

According to the policy, out-of county tuition would not be charged for students currently attending RCPS as well as children of school employees, county employees and owners of Richmond County real estate.

The policy would not allow the attendance of students who had discipline incidents in other school divisions and criminal or civil charges held against them.

Furthermore, non-residential students requiring special services would not be accepted by RCPS under the policy unless the sending locality compensates the school division for the costs of special education.

But Smith pointed out that if the schools accepted a child who was later diagnosed as having special needs, the situation would be noted as a special circumstance.

The policy also dictated that RCPS could at any time terminate an agreement with a family of a border student should that child prove disruptive or experience problems with discipline or attendance.

Smith reported over the phone that the NRSC favored the recommendations along the policy lines.

Following the meeting, Smith said that the tuition, if approved, would be reviewed annually to accommodate for changes in values.

During that time, he also received immediate reaction from a public that had mixed feelings toward the proposals.

“Some were very pleased, and some were not pleased,” said Smith, while adding he had not received any follow-up calls directly to his office.

It is anticipated that the school board will consider both the proposed policy and alternate plans during their regular session Wednesday, June 12 at 10 a.m. in the Richmond County public meeting room.

Posted on Wednesday, May 22, 2013 at 10:48 am