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School Committee Votes 4-3 To Explore School Choice

Posted in: Sandwich News, Front Page Stories
Nov 28, 2008 - 12:49:42 PM
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SANDWICH- The Sandwich School Committee could soon hold serious discussions about the possibility of becoming a school choice district.
Electing to participate in the school choice program could mean new revenue for Sandwich schools.
Through the school choice program, school committees allow out-of-district students to attend their schools in exchange for monetary reimbursement from the commonwealth.
The district currently loses money through the school choice program, said Superintendent Mary Ellen Johnson.
Even though Sandwich does not accept out-of-district students through school choice, they are still required to allow students to leave the district if they so wish.
Dr. Johnson said that she knows of at least four Sandwich residents who attend school in the Dennis-Yarmouth district, however, she did not know how many students attend out-of-district schools through school choice, or how much money the district loses as a result.
According to Massachusetts General Law, when a student elects to attend a school outside of his district of residence, the amount of Chapter 70 funding that would normally go the student’s home district is instead diverted to the district the student chose.
The law states that if there is not enough Chapter 70 aid to cover the school choice tuition, then the treasurer will take the amount from other state aid due to the community of residence.
School Committee Chairman Robert J. Guerin sparked the school choice discussion at last week’s school committee meeting, when he asked the committee to allow the child of a teacher who lives outside of district to attend school in Sandwich.
Mr. Guerin said that the school would not be reimbursed through the school choice program for accepting the student, but said that enrolling the student would serve as “test run” for the school choice program.
He told the committee that allowing the single out-of-district student would show a “vote of confidence,” for the school choice program and would be a “precursor to allowing [the district] to access a new revenue stream.”
The school committee voted 4-3 in favor of enrolling the student, with members Barbara A. Susko, Sharron L. Marshall, and Patricia A. Lubold dissenting.
Mr. Guerin stressed to the committee that allowing the student to attend Sandwich Schools was not a formal vote to enter the school choice program.
However, Ms. Lubold said she still had reservations about allowing even one student from outside the district to attend school in Sandwich.
“I’m having a hard time setting a precedent such as this,” she said.
Ms. Susko agreed.
“What if the next person who comes along has severe special education needs?” she asked.
According to Massachusetts General Law, the school choice enrollment process must be completely random and cannot discriminate on the basis of “race, color, religious creed, national origin, sex, age, sexual orientation, ancestry, athletic performance, physical handicap, special need or academic performance or proficiency in the English language.”
Though Mr. Guerin told the committee the school choice was an “administrator-run program,” the district could still be forced to enroll students in need of special education, if they were to enter the school choice program.
Though the district would only receive 75 percent of the cost to educate every student they enrolled in traditional education courses, they would receive a full reimbursement from the commonwealth for every special needs student they enrolled.
According to law, the presumption is that every school district is a school choice district, and school committees are required to hold a public hearing and vote, if they wish to opt out the program.
Each year, when a district enters the program or renews its participation, it must also disclose how many students are able to enroll and in what grades there are open seats.
Currently, Bourne and Falmouth both participate in the program, while Sandwich and Mashpee have routinely voted against participating.
Falmouth Acting Superintendent Marc P. Dupuis told the Enterprise in May that his district’s school choice reimbursement has decreased in recent years, due to other surrounding district’s joining the program.
Falmouth received $78,000 in Fiscal Year 2005 from the school choice program, but that has dropped all the way to $5,000 for the current fiscal year.
When Ms. Susko asked Mr. Guerin what had changed from last year that prompted him to want to seriously consider joining the program, he stated it was due to a change in preference of top level administration.
Former Superintendent Nancy E. Young had previously advised the school committee against taking part in the program; however, Dr. Johnson said she was in favor of the program.
She said that by joining the program, the district could at least recoup losses in funding suffered when students opt out of the district.
“It would probably just level out,” she said.
The school committee did not set a date for a future school choice discussion; however, they are required to hold a public meeting to address the issue before June 1.