Proposed changes would open Region 16 up to non-resident students

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PROSPECT — As enrollment declines in Region 16, Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin has proposed changing a district policy to allow students that don’t live in Beacon Falls or Prospect to pay tuition to attend school in the region.

The Region 16 Board of Education’s policy allows officials to consider a request for a non-resident student to attend school in the region for a few specific reasons. The scenarios include a senior that wants to finish high school at Woodland Regional High School. Also, a student can finish the school year if his or her family moves out of the district after April 15.

The policy doesn’t allow non-resident students to simply pay tuition to attend Region 16 schools. Yamin’s proposal would eliminate that provision.

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 that 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.

Yamin pointed to declining enrollment as the catalyst for the proposed changes. He said the district has four schools with a “rich curriculum” and a variety opportunities for students.

“As districts shrink with their student population, it’s hard to keep those things going,” he said.

From October 2015 to October 2019, Region 16’s enrollment declined by 192 students. Enrollment at each school has dropped over that time. Laurel Ledge Elementary School saw the largest decline in students, going from 380 in 2015 to 279 in 2019.

The region also operates an alternative education program for high school students that 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.

If the policy is changed, Yamin doesn’t foresee large numbers of non-resident students coming to the region. However, he feels, the region could draw some people, especially for alternative education, which could provide additional revenue for the district.

The school board approved the first reading of the proposed policy revisions at its Jan. 15 meeting. The board has to approve it a second time for the policy to take effect. The proposal is expected to be on the agenda for the board’s Feb. 12 meeting.

Board Chairman Priscilla Cretella opposed the proposal. She said she would be in favor of allowing non-resident students to attend the alternative education program, but not opening up the district to all non-resident students.

Board member Robert Dyer said he wants to ensure the district can end an agreement with a non-resident student if that student turns out to be a problem.

“I don’t want to drive down the success of the district for a buck,” he said.