Science Hill School will be reluctantly proceeding with plans to seek mediation in its ongoing contract conflict with the county school system over non-resident pupils.
On Tuesday, the Pulaski County Board of Education rejected the latest contract proposal that would allow a limited number of students living within the Pulaski County district’s boundaries to attend Science Hill School, a single-facility K-8 district, and any and all from Science Hill’s territory to attend the larger county district.
Following that, the Science Hill Board of Education met this past week to discuss what their next step would be.
“We’ve not withdrawn the appeal,” said Science Hill Superintendent Rick Walker. “As of now, we’re just going to have to proceed with it.”
Thus far, the only contract that Pulaski County Schools has approved is one allowing no students living in its territory to attend Science Hill, while allowing any and all in the small northern Pulaski community to attend school in the county system.
It’s the same contract they approved for Science Hill last year, and the small school’s board agreed to it for this current school year — according to Walker, because their board was under the impression they’d be given a specific number of students that Pulaski County would give up for the 2014-15 school year contract.
“That did not come to pass,” said Walker.
Pulaski County Superintendent Steve Butcher said that an agreement of that kind had never been discussed.
An appeal is not the ideal choice, because an appeal to Kentucky Commission of Education Dr. Terry Holliday’s office will prove costly.
“We hate to do it because of the time and money that the appeal with take away from focusing on children,” said Walker. “We’ve already gotten open records requests from Pulaski County, one asking for 73 things, another for 20. That will take our little staff hours to compile. Plus, the cost of attorneys and litigations and expert witnesses.”
Those same expenses are why the last contract Science Hill submitted to the county school board was actually voted for by one school board member, Dr. Michael Citak.
“Here’s the situation: If we don’t produce a viable contract between the parties, (the issue is) going to end up in mediation, which will cost time and money for both parties,” Citak told the Commonwealth Journal earlier this week. “There will be hearings. There are already requests for documents on both sides. There will be attorneys involved representing people. That costs money too.”
The contract would have had any and all students who live in the Science Hill area students to be able to attend class in the Pulaski County district if Pulaski would allow 114 students who live within the county district’s boundaries to attend Science Hill.
Pulaski County has approved the same contract for Somerset Independent School for the coming school year — no county students to the city schools, any and all from the city to the county.
Somerset, like Science Hill this year, decided to decline Pulaski’s contract and has already moved ahead with mediation proceedings.
Somerset Superintendent Boyd Randolph said that hearings have been set to take place locally between the school districts’ legal counsels on June 26 and 27.
The exceptions for both Somerset and Science Hill are the children of school employees and the brothers and sisters of those already at the school, as well as those currently enrolled.
Butcher has said that the decision to limit its territory’s students from attending school elsewhere it to prevent the district’s enrollment numbers from stagnating.
The school district also stands to lose thousands of dollars in state SEEK (Support Education Excellence in Kentucky) money per student for every one that attends elsewhere.
Meanwhile, Walker maintains that his school district is spending money on the appeal process to open options for all local families.
“We’re fighting for Pulaski County parents to have freedom of choice,” said Walker. “We’re spending our money for them to have their choice and we’re glad to do it for the kids, but it doesn’t seem fair.”
Chris Harris is a staff writer for the Commonwealth Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com.