A hot-button topic that has engulfed Richmond County citizens and officials in debates for well over a year finally has a resolution; tuition will not be charged to out-of-county students.
On July 10, the school board voted to accept an attendance policy for students who enroll in Richmond County Public Schools (RCPS) but live outside the county.
The policy, however, will not include a tuition fee that was called for by a small but vocal group of citizens, the Concerned Taxpayers of Richmond County.
The group believed that non-resident students’ attendance of RCPS created unwelcome costs for county taxpayers.
Two months ago, Superintendent Dr. Greg Smith presented the school board with a tuition recommendation of $588 that would be paid by families of non-resident students for the 2013-2014 school year.
But on June 18, the school board held a public hearing where a vast majority of citizens in attendance opposed tuition for nonresident students.
Their reasons included tradition- nonresident students have been attending Richmond County schools for 83 years without having to pay a dime, they argued- and additional revenue.
For public schools in Virginia, state funding is based on students’ Average Daily Membership (ADM).
Therefore, with approximately 60 nonresident students attending RCPS, the school division has a higher ADM and, as a result, will receive more state
funding than without said nonresident students.
Following the public hearing, Smith forwarded a recommendation to the school board that did not include a tuition fee in the policy.
“The recommendation that I made regarding the student tuition issue was reflective of the general consensus of the Richmond County citizens, which was brought before the board at the school board meeting, as well as at the public hearing,” said Smith.
His recommendation and the school board’s decision on the matter matched the recommendation of Richmond County’s Non-Resident Student Committee, which designed and favored the non-resident student attendance policy but did not include tuition.
The school board did, however, remove one criterion prior to their approval of the policy.
Originally, nonresident student attendance was not to exceed 7 percent of resident student enrollment at RCPS.
But according to School Board Members Patricia Pugh and Brenda Pemberton, of the third and fourth voting districts, respectively, the board chose to leave the matter up to the discretion of Smith.
Pemberton noted the superintendent’s decision would be “based on the availability of space with an emphasis on taking care of Richmond County students first.”
Pugh said: “The superintendent best knows what the conditions of the school would be as far as how many people we could actually accept from outside.”
Dist. 5 School Board Member Ken Blackley made the recommendation at the July 10 meeting to strike the 7 percent cap from the policy.
Dist. 2 School Board Member and Chairman John Brown noted that the citizens’ comments from the public hearing on June 18 played a major role in the school board’s decision.
“The board listened to people at the public hearing and the recommendation from the non-resident student committee,” she said. “We responded to the citizen input. The response was overwhelming from the public to not charge any students tuition,” Pemberton added. “I think a lot of it is based on the fact that people better understand…how the county receives state and federal money.”
While most citizens opposed the tuition, however, they favored the attendance policy that was adopted by the school division.
The policy will require an application that non-resident families must fill out in order to have their children attend RCPS.
Pugh said the school board considered the enrollment application be a thorough means of admitting non-resident students to RCPS.
“We’ve already received a lot of interest outside Richmond County that folks want to come here,” she added. “That speaks volumes of our school system.”
The policy will still prevent the attendance of non-resident students who had discipline incidents and/or legal charges held against them in the past, as well as pupils who require special services unless RCPS is compensated by the sending locality for the cost of those services.
The policy also notes that RCPS can at any time terminate an agreement with the family of a non-resident student should that child experience problems with discipline or attendance.
Pemberton expressed her hope that the adoption of the policy will “put to rest some of the angst there has been in the community” over the issue of non-resident students attending Richmond County schools.
“We can move forward doing what we’re supposed to be doing, and that’s educating the children of Richmond County, and then those out-of-county students [who] apply and are accepted into our school system,” said Pemberton.
In commenting on the decision, Smith predicted that Richmond County schools’ practices in relation to border students were not likely to change very much.
“The policy as it stands right now correlates very closely, almost identical to the practices that were taking place for more than 80 years,” said Smith. “I think we have formalized it, we have put it in writing, it’s comprehensive and I doubt that the public will see much deviation from how this practice has been conducted for more than 80 years.”