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Out-of-District Tuition Plan 'Discriminatory'

Letter from the ACLU indicates that Barrington schools could face a legal challenge based on discrimination if it does not accept students with special needs.

Barrington’s proposed out-of-district student tuition program is on tonight’s agenda for the School Committee meeting. Chairman Patrick Guida’s comment in Barrington Patch that any legal issues could “shelve” the proposal is expected to take center stage because of a letter from the RI chapter of the ACLU that says the proposed program already appears discriminatory.

The letter from ACLU executive director Steven Brown to Superintendent Robert McIntyre says that a number of laws prohibit schools from discriminating against students with disabilities, according to several online sources, including wrnieducationblog.

“While in some circumstances schools may have some leeway in dealing with special-needs students, such as when significant problems might arise in providing them necessary accommodations, we are not aware of any basis whatsoever for a school to have a policy of automatically and categorically excluding special education students from an enrollment policy,” said Brown according to wrnieducationblog.

“The Barrington School Department has no obligation to establish a special program to accept students from out-of-town, but once it does so, it cannot simply declare students with disabilities off-limits,” said Brown according to rifuture.org.

 “While in some circumstances schools may have some leeway in dealing with special-needs students, such as when significant problems might arise in providing them necessary accommodations, we are not aware of any basis whatsoever for a school to have a policy of automatically and categorically excluding special education students from an enrollment policy. Such blatant discrimination flies in the face of the numerous laws designed to treat such students equally, not segregate or stigmatize them.”

The out-of-district tuition program is expected to add about $127,000 in new revenue for the schools even though criteria for the program and other details still need to be finalized.

Guida has already said in Patch that the schools are not averse to educating students with special needs from out of the district, but the cost of that education would have to be handled on a case-by-case basis -- not the district's $12,800 per pupil expenditure.

Gary Morse May 17, 2012 at 12:10 PM
This story began a week ago with some happy faces at the school department and school committee over a new revenue source. http://barrington.patch.com/articles/schools-recruiting-new-students But what was obvious to the public when this was first announced appears was not obvious to the school department and school committee: you cannot advertise a price for attending a public school, and then say it will be handled on a case by case basis using your own discriminating criteria. The problem of course is that we accept federal dollars here in RI, and thus are covered under federal anti discrimination laws. The ACLU appears to have been licking their chops over another lawsuit (their own revenue source) and that is a danger best avoided.
Kristine May 17, 2012 at 12:53 PM
I don't understand why those school districts that children are in that require special needs aren't forced to accommodate them as needed. Every school district should have, if they don't, a special ed department for this...sadly, I know, that in many RI school districts they..well..stink.
laura May 17, 2012 at 12:55 PM
I think we should scrap the whole thing and keep our top notch education to ourselves. This was supposed to generate revenue for the schools NOT put more burden and expense on the schools with special needs students. I have nothing againt special needs students but it certainly defeates the whole purpose of what the plan was. So once again the ACLU butts in and destroys something they have no business in. Way to go ACLU!!!
Terry Coffey May 17, 2012 at 01:17 PM
Having 3 special needs children I am appalled at the thought that Barrington would discriminate against Special Needs Children,It's reprehensible.Laura are you kidding me,I applaud the ACLU stepping in,Is Barrington to proud to take in Special Needs Students whats next we won't take students who are a certain race,when I first read the proposal and it said they weren't taking Special Needs Students I wondered why and thought it was discriminatory,yes it does cost more money to educate these students but why shouldn't people pay isn't there education as important as everyone else's I grew up going to Barrington Schools and I am proud to send my children to Barrington Schools yes we have 1 of the best Educational systems in the state but we have the snotty stereotype and I hate to say it reading some of these responses it validates why people think that.Very sad it's always about money.To say to put more burden on the expense of the schools by taking in these children is unbelievable what would you like done with them perhaps send them to a special school somewhere in the perfect world these wonderful children are treated with care and dignity to bad this isn't the perfect world.
Townie May 17, 2012 at 02:58 PM
The purpose of the tuition program was not to lose money. Time to scrap the program or drastically increase the costs of tuition to take into account special ed. students. I believed that the purpose of the program was due to the lowering of the student population. In other words, save teacher jobs.
Manifold Witness May 17, 2012 at 02:58 PM
By property & other taxes, Barrington taxpayers fund the Barrington Public School District, including "educational & related" services to Barrington's resident special needs students in the system. Barrington taxpayers aren't required to fund/subsidize the education of non-resident students, special ed or not. The issue now: Barrington’s public school district has excess staffing & other costs vis-à-vis the dropping census. The question: Instead of cutting costs, should/can the district generate revenue of $128,000 by “selling” 10 slots to out of district students - but exclude special ed students who would cost the district substantially more per student ($60,000 or so, perhaps)? The short answer appears to be “No”. The $128,000 doesn't include legal & other expenses that could outweigh any additional revenue. If a public school district sells slots to students at $12,800 each, the district can't discriminate. So if any of the students are special ed, the taxpayers could be on the hook to fund the additional cost per student (perhaps $47,000 + legal expenses). The public district shouldn’t be selling seats at all. The district needs to do some serious cost cutting. There is overstaffing. Teachers are too highly compensated for the time they work. It’s high time for payback on the technology investment made. Cut the budget by about 25%. To $31,000,000 or so. That would bring the taxes more in line with where they should be.
native May 17, 2012 at 03:27 PM
At best the town would break even with this plan. Why go through all of this? Try to figure a way to save some money without adding more students. This is in the top 3 of dumb ideas by the school committee.
laura May 17, 2012 at 05:40 PM
OOOH PEOPLE, CALM DOWN FOR GOD SAKES!! You are getting all liberal wacky on me. I have absolutey NOTHING against special needs children. And yes Michael, I am aware the Barrington has special needs children in the system! AGAIN, I will say, this plan to accept out of distric students, was purely for financial gain. Plain and simple. So therefor, unfortunately, if we are forced to take special needs children, it would not then be a financialy sound idea and would not get the intended results. I never read anyware that the town of Barrington was doing this soley and purely to enrich some luck kids lives! So Michael and Terry, because we would be forced to welcome special needs into the program, it will simply not work out. Therefor, we scrap the plan. Taking care of our own special needs children who live in town is certainly a proroity and these children should be given all the resources we have.
laura May 17, 2012 at 05:52 PM
And just as a side note, I agree, the school should not be able to disallow special needs kids in to the program. Because of that fact, this money generating program might not be feasable. All i was trying to say, but people dont' deal in facts when they are emotionally charged.
B/STOCK May 17, 2012 at 06:11 PM
Another good idea torpedoed by the ACLU.
Geoff Grove May 17, 2012 at 09:18 PM
It can still work. The proposed tuition was the average cost of a student with no special needs. I'm sure we have the data on the average cost of a student with an IEP, and students with disabilities. The tuition would then be their cost to the system.
Geoff Grove May 17, 2012 at 09:27 PM
@Manifold Witness. This is clearly an effort to maintain the current services, but that's not a bad thing. Downsizing will be extremely painful and contentious. The 'In-Tuition' idea is creative and useful. You should hope it can be figured out.
Gary Morse May 17, 2012 at 11:10 PM
GG You are opening up a lawsuit potential if you classify students in the way you are proposing. That is the entire point of anti-discrimination statutes: protection from segmentation and from the idea that "they" can be charged a different amount than the entire population of students. This is not a private company.
Manifold Witness May 18, 2012 at 01:12 AM
The idea that meaningful net revenue can be generated by selling the school system off piece-by-piece is not prudent. Charging some estimated average for special ed is not right for a number of reasons, including potential legal expenses. It is a known that it is not abnormal for the caring parents/guardians and the school district to have a costly dilogue about "educational & related services" for the child’s entire time in the district. The $12,800 is not fully costed either. What's next? Selling even more off piece by piece instead of cutting costs? Maybe have the wood shop guy use the schools resources to make & sell wooden furniture? You know, like running a little side business from the woodshop. As it is, the parents are bombarded with requests for money, donations, supplies, sponsor-whatever-“athons”, sell tickets, buy tickets, cookies, wallpaper, photos, gifts, food, sales, etc, etc, etc., etc., etc. Unless it's regionalization done right, school systems that do any sort of sharing/selling services seem to do an awful lot of arguing (legal expenses) over the unfairness (legal expenses) of whatever the cost sharing scheme is (legal expenses). The School Committee needs to focus on cutting costs. It’s time. You know it’s the right thing to do, GG. ;-)
Local Mom May 18, 2012 at 08:42 AM
Reminder that Financial Town Mtg is this Wed 23rd at 730p. BTW, standing vote for this meeting needs to go away and fast. People need to be able to vote on budget without feeling as though they have a target on their backs. The high property taxes in this town are a tremendous deterrent to new buyers. Even if you look at the lowest priced homes that are currently on the local market (starter homes or potential rental property), they're not selling. I've heard from friends and relatives who once considered moving to Barrington - they say, I can't afford the taxes - read: can't afford as new homeowner, can't cover in rental costs if landlord, everyone knows taxes usually go higher every year, teachers great but too highly paid, town of Barrington amenities not worth it. The Sowams housing plan could crush resources on that side of town....if they can sell the homes.
Mocktheworld May 18, 2012 at 11:17 AM
15 years ago I moved back to Barrington, to the house I grew up in. The taxes on the house were $2200, now they are $5400. We are a couple of years from retirement and are seriously debating whether we'll be able to afford to stay. I was born here, married in our back yard 36 years ago. It will be a sad day when we have to sell this house and move JUST due to the expense of taxes!
Gary Morse May 18, 2012 at 11:37 AM
Pamela, We have reached a breaking point here in Barrington, and our council leadership has not figured out this math. There was a time in the past that there could be a little financial excess in the US and State economies where a little discretion could be had by politicians. The line "if you have to ask about the taxes, you can't afford to live here" played out in realtor speak. Now EVERYBODY is asking about the taxes. Just as business now views RI as a pariah state, Barrington's loose ways will also impact us negatively. Consider that million dollar listings are still hot in Narragansett and Newport where tax rates are far lower than in Barrington. It takes many years for damage to occur, but once you sit at the "event horizon", it takes years to recover.
Mocktheworld May 18, 2012 at 05:07 PM
Sadly, if we move, it will NOT be to another RI community.
B/STOCK May 18, 2012 at 06:22 PM
You have a lot of company Pamela. The only problem is selling in this market. Once buyers find out the taxes they are gone.

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