Commonwealth Journal

January 24, 2013

Non-resident pupils limited at Science Hill School

School Board cuts available class slots

by Chris Harris
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset —  

If you live in the Pulaski County School District and you want to attend Science Hill next year, you’re out of luck — unless you or a sibling are already going there.
The Pulaski County Board of Education on Wednesday approved a new contract for non-resident pupils attending Science Hill School, an independent K-8 school district in northern Pulaski County. 
The contract would slice the current number of students who live in territory that would put them in the Pulaski County School System but attend Science Hill by a specifically undetermined amount — but essentially locks in only those families with students already enrolled.
“The Science Hill Independent School District may not add any additional Pulaski County resident students to the 2013-2014 nonresident contract with the exception of siblings of students that attended under ... the 2012-2013 school year or a child of a full-time Science Hill Independent employee,” reads the addendum to the agreement that was crafted after the regular January Pulaski County school board meeting.
In that meeting last week, it was proposed that the contract between Pulaski and Science Hill — which had allowed 172 Pulaski territory students to attend Science Hill per year for more than a decade — be changed to only 150 such students. New school board member Michael Citak objected to this plan, and he and fellow board newcomer Brandy Daniels — both elected to the board of education in November — voted against the measure, which ended up in a tie with school board member Edwin Sellers absent. 
As such, the board decided to table the issue for a later date to allow for further discussion about how to resolve the concerns, which included the well-being of students who would be moved around and the financial impact on the small Science Hill School District.
That later date came on Wednesday of this week at a special meeting of the Pulaski board. This time, all five board members were present — and all agreed to vote for the new contract with the amendments presented by Assistant Superintendent Sonya Wilds.
“From the discussions with most of you all, there’s come two main priorities ... One is our need and our responsibility to leverage the most resources possible for our kids and students, especially during the budgetary times that we’re having now,” said Wilds. “The other priority I’ve heard is the desire to not interrupt the educational placement of families that are attending Science Hill right now from our district.”
Given those priorities, Wilds recommended the amended contract, noting that after current nonresident students graduate from Science Hill, it would leave approximately 154 students — slightly more than the 150 that Pulaski had originally named in the revised contract last week.
“(This contract) would be one of modest reductions through a process of attrition,” said Wilds. “Basically we’re proposing that whoever they have at the end of the school year that are our students, to allow them to continue attending Science Hill. ... In addition to that, we will allow any siblings of those students to be allowed to the contract also, because we don’t want to split families or situations there. That starts a modest reduction process, perhaps not to the magnitude we were hoping for, but this is the best way to keep from really disrupting the families.”
Wilds added that in the past year, 11 siblings of the nonresident pupils had entered the picture, “so if you add 11 to 154, you’re looking at about 165 kids. They’re current contract is for 172, so that’s a difference of seven. So I really expect through attrition that their reductions will be less than 10 kids, ultimately.”
The change addresses “our need to start looking at wherever we can for resources, money for our own district and our own kids,” acknowledged Wilds, as the school systems receive about $3,800 in state money for each student who attends that district.
Citak said that since the last meeting, he’d heard from numerous individuals on both sides of the issue. 
“I am very comfortable that this works out a very nice compromise, in the sense that it doesn’t disrupt students in our neighboring district, yet it begins to allow us as our district to begin to get the kids back in our system that we need,” Citak said. “... It gives time for me and the rest of us to digest this matter, and next year when this contract comes up, I think there will be a lot more information (from which) we can make a very sound decision. I think this is an excellent way to get started, and I appreciate all the work that’s gone into this.”
 Wilds told the Commonwealth Journal that raising enrollment numbers is important to the Pulaski County School District because they had a decrease in enrollment of about 60 kids in November of 2011, and the next year that number rebounded up about 30, but still not up to 2010 levels. This means enrollment is “flat” and officials don’t wish to see it decline further.
“We’ve always grown up until this point,” she said. “The numbers are an issue.”
As far as why only the contract with Science Hill has been amended — and not a similar non-resident pupil contract with the Somerset Independent School System, which remained unchanged this year — Wilds said that Pulaski looked at percentages.
“About 34 percent of (Science Hill’s) enrollment is our kids, whereas Somerset only has about 15 percent of their enrollment (being) our kids,” said Wilds. “So one reason was to just bring the percentage of their enrollment down a little bit to be more equitable with Somerset.”
Another factor could be the accuracy with which Science Hill has reported its numbers. In the packet of information provided to the board and media at Wednesday’s meeting, there is a letter sent from Pulaski Superintendent Steve Butcher to Science Hill Superintendent Rick Walker, dated April 9, 2012, that says, “It has come to my attention that the Science Hill Independent School District has not been placing all Pulaski County School System resident students on the non-resident pupil list in accordance with the terms of the Board approved contract.”
When asked about comments made at the last board made about unfair reporting by Science Hill, Wilds explained that it was found that Science Hill was not including the children of the school’s employees in the number they were reporting.
Walker, who disagreed with the original change from 172 students to 150, opted not to comment on the new contract amendment, saying that no one from Pulaski had “communicated” with him about it and that he hasn’t heard or seen anything about the change.
“We will wait and see what contract they send us to we can try to adapt and serve the children,” said Walker. “The main thing is to work this out and try to do what is best for the kids.”