Commonwealth Journal

May 7, 2014

Science Hill drafts student contract proposal

Cooperation sought with county schools

by Chris Harris
Commonwealth Journal

Science Hill —

Only a couple of weeks after deciding to settle a dispute over non-resident pupils via an appeal to the state education commissioner, Science Hill School is trying a new take on an old solution: a contract proposal to Pulaski County Schools.
At a special-called board meeting on Tuesday, the Science Hill Board of Education decided to come up with a new contract to submit for the consideration of the Pulaski County Board of Education with different terms than the last, proposing a limited number of students in the Pulaski district boundaries that would be able to attend Science Hill, the small K-8 facility in the northern part of the county.
Last month, the Pulaski school board rejected a contract from Science Hill that would have allowed any and all students currently living within the territory of one school system to attend the other if they wish. Pulaski County has passed its own contract seeking to prevent any students living in its territory from attending Science Hill.
In the meantime, the Science Hill board is suspending a planned appeal to Kentucky Commissioner of Education Dr. Terry Holliday to resolve their issues with the much larger county school system over the matter.
“The appeal is on hold,” said Rick Walker, Science Hill Superintendent. “We have not withdrawn it. We are just not pursuing it in hopes of being able to work something out locally.”
He added, “We’re trying to figure out something we could pass and agree with and they could pass and agree with so we could move on and work together like we have in the past. We think this is something we can live with that hopefully their school board would think is far.”
The contract would have any and all Science Hill-area students be able to attend class in the Pulaski County district if Pulaski would allow 114 of their students to attend at Science Hill.
It was approved unanimously by the Science Hill school board.
The cause for renewed optimism on Science Hill’s part comes as a result of discussions Walker has had recently with Dr. Michael Citak, a Pulaski County school board member.
“I asked Dr. Citak what would pass that (the county board) would agree with. We talked some numbers back and forth,” said Walker. “He said they needed a number of kids from us, and I threw out some numbers. He thought this would be a good offer on our part and stimulate some good discussion among the board. 
“So I’m feeling optimistic that it will have a chance,” added Walker, noting that he started communicating with Citak Friday and continued over the weekend. “It was a really nice conversation.”
Citak was hesitant to say what the Pulaski board might do with the proposal, but did confirm his conversations with Walker.
“I will make it very clear that first of all, I am willing to work with and talk to them (Science Hill), but I can’t speak for the Pulaski County school board,” he said. “(Walker) asked my opinion. The last contract that was offered was any and all; even I couldn’t go for that. Then he asked what I thought would work. I told him my opinion to put a number down. He never asked for a number, nor did I give him one. I thought the board would be most willing to accept some kind of number.”
Citak said that a proposal by Walker that would ask for state SEEK  (Support Education Excellence in Kentucky) money credit back for 19 Pulaski territory students that Science Hill educated off-contract last year was something he wasn’t okay with after giving it some thought.
“I said, “Well, if you’ve educated 19 of ours without funding last year, why should we all of a sudden give up funding this year? If you want to do the same number as last year, (that’s fine,) but don’t expect us to pick up those 19.’ My advice to him would be to be in within the realm of what they did last year.”
Another factor to consider, said Citak, is that state law does not require schools to include the children of employees within the contract number. The last number of such children — those of Science Hill employees that could attend that school even though they live out of district — that Citak was aware of was 28; that number would have to be counted in addition to the 119 figure, or whatever number Science Hill would come up with.
“Even though this contract sounds considerably lower (in terms of numbers), you have to add those 28 (students) back,” said Citak.
“I have not spoken to any of the other board members at this point,” he added, noting that he hadn’t read Science Hill’s new contract yet as of Wednesday. “I’m sure that our board will have to discuss it. There will be opinions and no doubt there will be a vote, so we’ll have to see where it goes.”
In mid-January, the Pulaski County School Board approved contracts that would disallow any students living within the boundaries of the county district to attend school at either Somerset Independent Schools or Science Hill, unless they were siblings with a student that was already enrolled at one of the other systems. This would be applicable for the upcoming 2014-15 school year.
Last year, Pulaski County enacted such a contract with Science Hill, after years of allowing 172 non-resident pupils to attend the northern Pulaski K-8 school. However, in prior years, Somerset has been allowed 240 county territory students, so this was a drastic change for the city school district.
The contract that Pulaski County drew up would allow any and all students from either the city or Science Hill to attend the county schools if they choose.
A school district gets more than $3,600 per student in SEEK money per child from the state, meaning the more students a school has, the more money they have coming from state government coffers. More students going to the county district rather than the two smaller ones means more state money for the larger system, and less for the others.
Pulaski County Superintendent Steve Butcher has said that the county school system enrollment was going “flat,” and that the decision to restrict county territory students from going elsewhere was done to keep his school districts from losing more enrollment, and more SEEK money.
Somerset has moved ahead with its decision to file an appeal with the state education commissioner’s office.