UPDATE: In a special meeting Friday, March 7, the Germantown Municipal Schools board voted 3-0 to rescind its tuition requirement for open enrollment of students living outside Germantown.
Collierville Schools Superintendent John Aitken is preparing for early enrollment later this month of students in the forming suburban school district who live in Collierville.
And Aitken acknowledged this week there will be some “angst” and uncertainty as the parents of some of those children who now attend schools in Germantown weigh whether to pay tuition to stay there under Germantown’s open enrollment policy or switch to Collierville schools.
“We’ll do everything within our means to make you feel welcome,” Aitken said Tuesday, March 4, as the Collierville Schools board approved its own open enrollment policy that does not charge tuition to open enrollment transfer students who live within Shelby County but outside Collierville.
The board vote was unanimous and came the day after the Germantown Municipal Schools board approved an open enrollment policy that charges non-Germantown students a $200 a year fee to attend Germantown’s school system.
Collierville and Germantown Schools leaders had held talks to work out a specific arrangement for students at Houston Middle and High schools beyond Germantown’s open enrollment policy.
“We will welcome new children with open arms and warm hearts. And we will have a seat for your child notwithstanding what you may have heard,” said Collierville Schools board chairman Mark Hansen. “We do have a tight capacity. It’s no secret to anyone. But we have plans and we are making plans in place to accommodate any kids that come in.”
Hansen said no talks were scheduled but that he is not ruling out the possibility of more talks on the matter.
The Collierville board heard from some of those parents as well as Collierville residents who advocated charging tuition as well.
But all five school board members said they support a no tuition policy at least for the start of the suburban school system. The policy could be reviewed and changed by the board at any time. That would most likely happen if the town began using Collierville property tax revenue to operate the school system.
Hansen said the idea of charging students outside Collierville’s borders was discussed at the outset of the district’s formation including in talks that led to the settlement of the federal court lawsuit over the local schools reformation.
“Tuition was very prominently discussed and we made a commitment to not put impediments in the way of children that want to attend our schools including tuition at least for the first years,” Hansen said of the discussions leading to the settlement last year on the formation of the suburban school systems.
The Collierville open enrollment policy spells out that transportation will not be provided for those in-county students who are accepted in Collierville schools with the 2014-2015 school year.
Students who live outside Shelby County would pay approximately $3,700 in tuition and those living out of state would pay approximately $7,800 under the formula in the policy.
After an early enrollment period for Collierville residents on March 24, 25 and 27, Aitken said the school system will have a better idea of enrollment numbers and how much capacity is left at which schools. And that will determine the number of open enrollment slots with the deadline for applications for those slots following closely in early April.
Some of the Collierville citizens favoring a tuition requirement for open enrollment said no tuition wasn’t fair when Collierville residents paid property taxes.
School board member Cathy Messerly, however, pointed out that sales tax revenue is what is pledged in terms of local revenue to the new school system.
It was a point echoed by board member Kevin Vaughan, who initially favored some kind of tuition for those students now in Collierville schools who live in annexation reserve areas.
“This is an annexation question more so than a school board and school attendance policy,” he said of the change in his position. “So many children are already in our system. They are here now. And so we’d be looking at displacing children that are in our schools.”
Vaughan also said a tuition fee could mean the loss of much more in state funding that follows students to whatever school their parents select.
“These children represent $1.4 million in funding and they are already in our schools,” he added. “We’d be asking that funding to leave. And if we were to charge an arbitrary tuition – say, $200 – all we would realize would be less than $36,000 for these children. We would be giving up $1.4 million for the sake of $36,000. I don’t see that as being a good steward of all of our resources.”