Barrington will shelve its idea for a “pilot program” that recruits 10 out-of-district students to its top-ranked schools next year unless the tuition it charges covers the cost of educating those kids.
That may be the most definite decision made about the pilot program so far, said School Committee Chairman Patrick Guida.
The only other solid decisions made so far, said Guida, is that “we will not exceed 10 students at this point in time” and “we set the tuition at exactly our per-pupil expenditure, $12,800.”
Other than that, Guida said: “All we’ve really said is that we want to do a pilot program. I don’t know yet where it will go.”
“We have no criteria established,” he said. “We just know that we would like to test the waters to see if it’s feasible. We’re not done yet.”
Guida, an attorney and the vice chairman of the Rhode Island Board of Regents, said conversations he has had with officials at the Rhode Island Department of Education and with other legal professionals indicate that the program could be seen as discriminatory.
“There is always the possibility of charges of bias or discrimination being made,” he said. “If we run into legal difficulties, we will drop the program.”
Guida said he spent the better part of Thursday answering questions about the proposal in very broad strokes. He said he told everyone the program is still a work in progress.
“If it turns out as we explore further, and as the idea evolves, that we can’t offer admission to the general public without offering the same price, we will shelve the idea for the time being,” he said.
“We’re not in a position for Barrington taxpayers, who already pay 93 percent of school costs, to say to them that we will fill the slots available with high-priced kids,” he said, referring to children with special needs or costly individual education plans (IEPs).
The costs for special-needs children can be in the tens of thousands of dollars and even more, Guida said.
“We’re not averse to teaching those kids,” he said, “but the tuition set for them would be done on a case-by-case basis.”
Although criteria and guidelines still need to be developed, Guida said, Barrington will be looking for “academically responsible children, not necessarily high learners, but children with a strong interest in learning. We’re not interested in admitting someone on the truancy list.”
Students who show "the potential to over-achieve from wherever they start from," he said, are the types of students of most interest to Barrington.
“We want someone who will get something out of Barrington,” he said.
Barrington already educates 3 to 5 tuition-paying students a year, Guida said. For instance, a student’s parent might move but they want to have their child finish up his or her last year in Barrington. They pay tuition because they are no longer Barrington taxpayers.
Other school districts do the same thing. So, having tuition-paid students is not unusual.
“This is really just an expansion of that,” he said. “I don’t see it as much different.”
What does make this effort rather ground-breaking, though, he said, is that Barrington will recruit students to fill those 10 slots – one in each grade except grades four and five.
Guida said details for the program probably won’t be ready by the Financial Town Meeting on May 23. But the anticipated revenue from those 10 slots will be in the budget.
A more feasible deadline for all details to be worked out is by the end of school in June, he said. "At that point, we will have the criteria established and invite applications.”
Applications will be invited, of course, Guida said, only if “we can cover our costs.”