Commonwealth Journal

June 13, 2014

Contract between schools approved

by Chris Harris
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset —

The contract agreement between Science Hill and Pulaski County Schools saw its i’s dotted and t’s crossed on Thursday, bringing to an end one part of an ongoing educational conflict.
According to Steve Butcher, Superintendent of Pulaski County Schools, the board’s agreement to the most recent non-resident pupil contract for the 2014-15 school year that Science Hill submitted has been “finalized.”
The Pulaski County Board of Education voted on the contract at a special-called meeting on May 29, unanimously approving the compromise attempt by the Science Hill School District, the smaller K-8 facility in northern Pulaski.
Although Science Hill’s school board approved the contract last month, on Thursday, it passed a tweak concerning tuition costs in the event that a student living outside the district does want to attend classes there.
The contract takes the same approach the county school system did in its initial contract for non-resident pupils in the 2014-15 school year. It would disallow any new students living in Science Hill School’s geographic boundaries from attending Pulaski County Schools, just as the county district had written a contract preventing any of its students from choosing to attend Science Hill.
The exceptions are students who already attend school outside of the territory in which their family lives, enrolled during the 2013-14 school year, their siblings, and as per state law, children of school faculty.
Science Hill Superintendent Rick Walker said that one tweak the county school board requested to the contract would have any child that might attend the other district for which that school system would not collect SEEK (Support Education Excellence in Kentucky) money having to pay tuition.
Walker said that previous tuition rates for Science Hill have been set at $2,000 for each the first student from a family, and $1,000 for each additional child from that household. That’s what it remained after Thursday’s Science Hill board vote.
Pulaski County Superintendent Steve Butcher said that the county would not have any tuition rates, and would not take any Science Hill-area students into the county school system.
“If any new kids want to come to the county, we’ll just say, ‘No, we can’t take you,’” said Butcher. “We won’t do tuition.”
Although Science Hill had made previous attempts that would allow for some number of students — whether any and all, or a set number — from one district to attend the other, Pulaski County’s board rejected each of those proposals.
The other option was mediation with the state education commissioner’s office, something Walker was hoping to avoid.
“It was going to be a long, drawn-out, expensive battle,” said Walker. “We just felt our resources were better off focusing on students living in the Science Hill District and (those) that we get to take from outside the district.”
Pulaski County’s initial contract to Science Hill for 2014-15 had permitted any and all Science Hill-area students to attend class in a county system school, while preventing any new students from enrolling at Science Hill, a K-8 district in northern Pulaski County.
Pulaski made the same contract to Science Hill last year, which the school system accepted. Walker has said that it was done with Science Hill administrators under impression that the county would give them a specific number of eligible county-territory students for 2014-15, as had been done in past years. Instead, Pulaski County offered the same contract again and then offered it to Somerset Independent Schools as well.
Somerset has opted to go forward with an appeal to Kentucky Education Commissioner Dr. Terry Holliday’s office. Hearings have been set to take place locally between the school districts’ legal counsels on June 26 and 27.
Butcher said that the contract from Science Hill that the county approved was “kind of what we wanted initially,” in terms of restricting student movement — the difference being that now no Science Hill-area students can attend in the county through the eighth grade, instead of “any and all” as before.
“They made their little change to what they’d done in the past,” said Butcher. “We felt like that was fine. Everybody felt good about the contract.”
Walker said that the circumstances “aren’t ideal,” but he’s happy to have the matter resolved for now.
“What we’re hearing from lots of parents is that they want greater flexibility in school choice,” said Walker. “I do not think this issue is going to go away, but it will be up to the taxpayers to voice their opinion on that.
“This is just a one-year deal,” he added. “We’ll see what happens next year.”
 
 
Chris Harris is a staff writer for the Commonwealth Journal. He can be reached at charris@somerset-kentucky.com.