ORRINGTON, Maine — Community leaders in town and nearby Dedham, who are working together to create a new, cost-saving regional school unit, are discussing a policy that would charge parents for sending students to John Bapst Memorial High School.
Since neither Orrington nor Dedham has a high school, the new regional school unit has to have a contract with a community that provides secondary education. With a majority of the high school-age students in both communities attending Brewer High School, the decision was made to contract with Brewer.
To “control costs and limit increases in school budgets,” the draft policy states that “beginning in 2011-2012 school year the school committee will pay tuition to the student’s school of choice at the rate equal to Brewer High School’s tuition rate.”
“With the exception of special education costs, if a student chooses a secondary school with a tuition rate higher than that established in a contract with Brewer School Department, the student’s parent (s)/guardian(s) will be responsible for the difference,” the draft policy states.
Charging parents for the cost of school choice is now allowed under the new school consolidation law, Superintendent Allen Snell said during Tuesday’s meeting of the Orrington School Committee.
“It’s not been done anywhere else,” he said. “I think we might be the first place that is doing that under our new RSU law.”
Under the new policy, “the town would be responsible to bill the parents the difference,” Snell added. “The town would collect the money. That is the way the law is reading right now.”
For the 2009-2010 school year, the Orrington and Dedham school departments paid $7,975 for a student attending high school in Brewer. John Bapst’s tuition rate was $9,154.
If the proposed policy already were in effect, parents with students enrolled at John Bapst would have to pay the $1,179 difference.
The proposed policy also states transportation will be provided only to Brewer High and John Bapst.
The last paragraph of the draft policy suggests a grandfather clause for students already enrolled at John Bapst and possibly their younger siblings, but there is some debate between committee members about exactly what dates should be used.
The grandfathered cutoff date and other issues will be discussed at the Aug. 18 regional planning committee meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. in the Dedham School library.
The committee consists of one school board member, one selectman and one resident from each town who are tasked with ironing out details for the new district.
At the first committee meeting, Orrington School Committee Chairman Kyle Casburn was elected chairman and Mike Howe of Dedham was made vice chairman.
“Dedham will be discussing the RSU next week,” Daniel Lee, superintendent for Dedham and Brewer, said Tuesday.
The proposed tuition policy is just one of the many steps the regional planning committee must undertake in the next several months. Also on the table is the makeup of the new RSU’s school board, which will be based on weighted votes, and holding a public hearing and then local elections about creating the new school unit.
If approved by residents, voters in the two towns then will be asked to elect officials to sit on the new school board. Those new board members will hire a superintendent and create a new school budget before the anticipated July 1, 2011, start date.