SARANAC LAKE - Students who want to attend Saranac Lake public schools but don't live in the Saranac Lake Central School District would have to pay tuition under a draft policy being reviewed by the district's Board of Education.
The revenue-generating move comes as the district has cut its budget substantially over the last three years, eliminating roughly 40 positions, mostly through attrition; it proposes to cut another 10 next year. It's also an attempt to cover the costs associated with educating out-of-district students, something school officials say they could see more of in the future.
"I think the sentiment was, we're in very difficult times economically, and it's very difficult to ask the taxpayers of this community to subsidize children of parents from other school districts," Superintendent Gerald Goldman said at last week's school board meeting, where the policy was introduced for the first time.
"We also recognize lately that we've become a preferred school district that parents want to send their kids to from other communities. That may not last forever, but it threatens to become a burden on our taxpayers."
Just how much out-of-district students would have to pay hasn't been determined yet, school officials said at last week's meeting, although Goldman told the Enterprise the amount that's been talked about is $1,500. He noted that amount is still well below the district's per-student cost of roughly $6,000.
"Other districts, many have a policy of not admitting non-district students," Goldman said. "Districts that do are moving to a tuition-based system."
The policy would also apply to school employees who don't live in the boundaries of the district but want their children to attend Saranac Lake schools. Previously they didn't have to pay anything, like other out-of-district students.
"They will be required to pay tuition," Goldman said.
The superintendent said the district has the potential to incur significant costs associated with out-of-district students. But he noted that state law doesn't let the district ask questions that would allow it to exclude students whose education may be costly, such as special education students or students or those with medical conditions.
"I think the board, at least the committee that studied this, felt that if we do charge a nominal tuition, we will cover those eventualities that might occur where that happens," Goldman said.
Saranac Lake doesn't have many students from out of the district right now, including children of staff who live outside the district. There are probably fewer than 10 such students out of 1,349 total, Goldman said. In most cases, Goldman said they are children whose parents don't want them to attend their home school district because of some "turmoil."
"There might be conflicts with another group of kids, for example, and they think a change of scene will help the child," he said. "We're usually willing to give it a try."
Board member Clyde Baker said the tuition amount would have to be voted on each year at the board's organizational meeting in July.
The board will consider adopting the policy at a future meeting.