Media Archive

Superintendent's agreements raise legal questions

Article from The Piscataquis Observer, Vol. 165, No. 28, July 09, 2003

By Jessica Lee
Staff Writer

SADs 41, 68 at odds over who pays

DOVER-FOXCROFT and MILO High school students that live in the SAD 41 communities, but want to attend the private Foxcroft Academy in Dover-Foxcroft &Mac247; through a superintendent's agreement with SAD 68 next year may be denied.

SAD 68 Superintendent John Dimbauer on Monday said that the district may not renew any superintendent's agreements this summer, due to an issue that has been raised recently over who pays the local share of the student's tuition to the private school.

SAD 41 Superintendent David Walker told his board last week that the problem is "bigger for SAD 68 than it is for us." He consulted with attorneys from Drummond & Woodsum of Portland last month after receiving complaints from parents of students attending Foxcroft Academy, who were receiving bills for $2,000 &Mac247; to make up the difference between what the state pays SAD 68 in subsidy (approximately $4,800) and the private school's tuition rate (near $7,000).

Walker said that the superintendent's agreements are signed, essentially turning a student over to another school district. For those SAD 41 students who hold superintendent's agreements to attend SAD 68 schools, he said, SAD 68 agrees to accept the state subsidy, as well as pay the difference &Mac247; the local share &Mac247; to educate that student.

Dimbauer disagrees. "I think it's a matter between the home schooled district and FA," he said. "SAD 68 can't afford to pay the difference in tuition to support students from another school district. I think it might impact my decision to [sign future superintendent's agreements}. I can't ask SAD 68 taxpayers to subsidize other communities."

He commented that the contracts are renewed on an annual basis, usually over the summer and through the start of the school year.

"This is a sore spot with the SAD 68 board," Dimbauer said. "Essentially, FA is charging SAD 68 a higher rate of tuition than it is for other school districts [sending students through the superintendent's agreements]. It's a situation that needs to be corrected."

Walker said that the superintendent's agreements "work well with SAD 68 until ninth grade," because the district contracts with a private high school. He said SAD 41 will continue to allow the contracts, as long as there is "adequate reasoning" for the student to go to FA, as opposed to Penquis Valley High School in Milo.

"I'm not going to yank these contracts," he said. "But we'll work on a case-by-case basis."

If parents are unhappy with a decision, they can appeal to the commissioner of the state Department of Education , Walker said.

Foxcroft Academy's associate headmaster Jay Brennan said he sees problems in the way the contracts have evolved from the legislature's intention into a "quasi-voucher".

"In the original form of the superintendent's agreement, parents didn't pay anything, and the full-cost was covered," Brennan said. "I think it would be our position, since students are entitled to a free education in the state of Maine, that parents shouldn't have to pay. It's unfortunate."

Brennan said the state sets FA's maximum allowable tuition rate,currently at $6,906, and that the school's board of trustees actually spend another $450 to educate each student. "That cost is borne by alumni that contribute to annual giving campaigns, donors, income from endowed funds," he said.

When neither SAD 68 nor SAD 41 is willing to pay the local share portion of the tuition rate, approximately $2,200, Brennan said, the only option left is to bill the parents. He confirmed that letters have been sent to parents of those students, requesting payment of the local share or the student will not be re-admitted next fall.

"We are very sympathetic if parents can't pay, and we want to work with parents," he said. "But we can't educate students only on the state subsidy."

Brennan said that the state's rules that apply to the contracts need to be re-examined by the state legislature. He said that there also, needs to be proper voucher legislation, which would allow parents the choice to decide which school their children should attend.

NOTE - This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of the TRC Alliance Team.