The Niskayuna Central School District Board of Education may allow students from outside the district to pay tuition to attend school in Niskayuna as a way to bring in extra revenue.
It seems it’s not such a straightforward issue, however. There are questions about how such a program would work and whether it really would bring in money or ultimately cost the district. And then there’s the question of whether outside students would even take advantage of the opportunity to pay for a Niskayuna education.
Board member Patricia Lanotte says it’s important to fully study the matter and not let assumptions rule the discussion. Lanotte noted recent troubles at neighboring Schenectady’s Mont Pleasant Middle School as an example of why parents might want the option of paying tuition to send children to Niskayuna.
“I think we need to look at everything,” Lanotte said at a meeting earlier this month, “We have the time to do it. We might as well do a good analysis so our decision is fact-based and not based on something we think might happen.”
Accepting tuition-paying students is an option open to any school district, state officials said. If a district allows the practice, the state Department of Education sets tuition rates through a formula.
State education officials did not have numbers on how many districts allow tuition-paying students or how many parents actually pay to send their children to neighboring districts.
Like Niskayuna, Duanesburg and Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake don’t offer tuition-based attendance, but several districts do, including Guilderland, Schenectady, Scotia-Glenville and Schalmont. Of those four, only Guilderland and Schalmont actually had a tuition-paying student, with both reporting one currently. In the past five years, Guilderland has had three.
Robert Hanlon, spokesman for the Scotia-Glenville Central School District, said the policy provides parents the benefit of options. Scotia-Glenville has hosted tuition-based students in the past, he said, with parents making the choice based on conditions in their home district or because they want their children closer to work.
Some parents also inquire about tuition, then balk at the price, he said. Scotia-Glenville’s non-resident tuition rates are $7,280 for grades K-6 and $9,388 for grades 7-12.
Schenectady mother Glenna Ryan considered both cost and safety when she decided to take her middle school daughter, Cassandra, out of her home district last month. Cassandra attended Schenectady’s Mont Pleasant Middle School, but threats of fights and other problems at the school this fall drove Ryan to seek an alternative.
She ended up choosing Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons, a Catholic school in Schenectady. Ryan said last week she was aware some public school districts allowed tuition-paying students and had contacted Schalmont Central School District. But the tuition there — $13,742, set by the state — was significantly more than Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons’ $6,765.
And Ryan would have had to arrange transportation to Schalmont. The state provides bus transportation through the local school district to private schools within a 15-mile radius, according to the Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons website.
“I think it has to be affordable to families to look at it as an alternative,” Ryan said of public school tuition.
Guilderland’s formula-set tuition for students outside the district is $9,278 for grades K-6 and $12,347 for grades 7-12, with no transportation.
The Guilderland policy also starts out by noting it is the district’s primary responsibility to educate resident students. Non-resident students may be admitted for tuition, if, in the superintendent’s judgment, faculty and space are sufficient, the student meets admission criteria and the admission is in the best interests of the district.
One of the questions asked by Niskayuna board members was whether the cost to educate a particular student could be factored into the rate. According to state officials, in cases where that cost is tied to a student’s disability, it can’t be. It’s the same rate for everyone.
There were also questions about school priority, including how to handle situations where a tuition-paying student’s placement might come into conflict with placement of a district resident. In Guilderland, final approval on placement lies with the superintendent.
In Westchester County, the Ardsley Union Free School District allows tuition-paying students and has 12 such students this school year, Superintendent Lauren Allen said.
Allen said non-district parents choose to send their students to Ardsley for a simple reason: “Usually it’s because they like our district better than the one they live in.”
Allen said Ardsley accepts outside students if it has the space, and there is no guarantee a tuition-paying student can return the following year. The district can’t turn away a student whose cost of education would be more than the tuition, Allen said, but added it’s not an issue that comes up frequently.
Niskayuna school board member Barbara Mauro said she has been in favor of allowing non-resident, tuition-based students for some time. She likened it to charging non-resident rates for the district’s pool, as space allows.
“I think it’s good that board members are asking questions,” she said. “We want to be fiscally responsible.”
Board member John Buhrmaster said he believes district officials could be giving their attention to more pressing matters.
“Adding a revenue option sounds attractive in the beginning,” Buhrmaster said. “Unfortunately, a lot goes on behind the scenes. It’s like setting up a small business.”
Niskayuna Superintendent Susan Kay Salvaggio is to return with more information at a future board meeting.