Board puts off action on changes to non-resident student policy

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PROSPECT — The Region 16 Board of Education has tabled action, for now, on proposed changes to a policy that would allow students that don’t live in Beacon Falls or Prospect to pay tuition to attend school in the region.

Under the proposed changes, non-resident students could apply and attend school in the region with the approval of the superintendent “if class size, transportation, and other considerations permit.” A non-resident student would be approved for a year, at most, at a time, and officials can terminate the agreement if it’s “in the best interest of the school district.”

The region would charge the student tuition, which would be what the district spends on average for a student for the year. This year, the average is about $15,800 a student. The tuition for non-resident students that need special services would be more, depending on the services the student requires.

The board’s policy in place allows officials to consider a request for a non-resident student to attend school in the region for a few specific reasons, including a senior that wants to finish high school at Woodland Regional High School.

At the board’s Feb. 12 meeting, Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin said he understands there has been some concern among residents about towns outside the region sending a large number of students to the district if the policy is changed. He said that won’t happen because of what it would cost another town to do so and because the district would have to approve non-resident students.

“The theory behind this policy was if we can increase our enrollment a little bit and receive some tuition that’s great,” said Yamin, who proposed the changes. “There are plenty of precautions in this that give us the sole discretion of accepting or not accepting students.”

Accepting non-resident students is not an uncommon practice in public school districts. Yamin said he sees value in accepting non-resident students, especially for the district’s alternative education program, as enrollment in the region declines.

The alternative program for high school students costs about $175,000 a year to run. There is room for 12 to 15 students in the program. Six students are enrolled in the program this year, but there are about four that attend daily, Yamin said. He said other school districts in the Naugatuck Valley have expressed interest in paying to send students to the region’s alternative program.

Yamin added the proposed changes offer a Woodland underclassmen that has gone through district schools the chance to pay tuition to finish high school at Woodland, if their family moves out of the district.

Board member Nazih Noujaim said he’s fine with allowing non-resident students to attend the alternative program and a student to finish high school in the region if his or her family moves, but he expressed concerns about whether the district could face legal action for refusing a non-resident student.

Yamin said he spoke with the board’s legal counsel, which advised that the district can’t be challenged legally as long as the policy states that acceptance is at the discretion of the region.

After a brief discussion, the board took no action on the policy changes. Yamin said he’ll go through the proposal to update it to address the board’s concerns. The proposal is expected to be on the agenda again for the board’s Feb. 26 meeting.