By Dave O'Connor
MAYVILLE - After determining in July that tuition rates for out-of-district students calculated using the Seneca Falls formula are too high and would adversely affect possible integration with Ripley, the Chautauqua Lake school board sent a clear message at its latest meeting.
"Ripley knows we will negotiate," board member Kim Weborg-Benson said during the board's August session.
Chautauqua Lake Central School thus joined Ripley Central School with rates "under review" while two other local districts, Brocton and Clymer, will not accept tuition students in 2012-13. Clymer will, however, continue instruction of previously accepted students from other districts who will pay $200 for tuition.
So far among the six local districts only Westfield and Sherman have announced tuition rates for nonresident students who want to attend either of their respective schools in the coming school year.
Westfield will charge $3,025 tuition for kindergarten through fifth grade and $7,437 for grades six through 12. Sherman will ask $2,743 for kindergarten through sixth grade and $2,005 for grades seven through 12.
If Chautauqua Lake uses the Seneca Falls formula, its tuition would be $1,200 for pre-kindergarten, $6,500 for kindergarten through sixth grade and $9,500 for grades seven through 12.
"Nobody's sending their kids here at $9,500 a year," said Jay Baker, CLCS board vice president, at a July 25 meeting.
Board member Deborah Cross-Fuller agreed.
"At this point we're pricing ourselves out of the market," she said.
Jason Delcamp suggested his fellow board members look to actual school taxes paid by an average homeowner as a more realistic basis for tuition.
Baker again noted that, for small rural schools, adding students would generally be financially constructive since most classes can easily add students with very little additional expense. However, Dave Thomas, business manager, warned other districts can send special needs students with very high attached costs to schools which accept tuition. This practice, he said, has already caused some school districts to not accept tuition students.
Regarding Ripley, CLCS Superintendent Benjamin Spitzer said he believes a contract between the two districts would have to take into account the number of students Ripley could send to Chautauqua Lake which would allow CLCS to offer a low average rate.
"Generally speaking, Ripley is very interested, but the tuition formula might be different because of the amount of students," Spitzer said at the July business session.
Delcamp noted Ripley's incoming eighth grade class is reportedly only 14 students, which portends extremely small high school classes going forward.
Baker added it is now inevitable that at least some small rural school districts will, "close their doors in the next two or three years because they are broke."
Much of the problem, Baker maintained, continues to be the state's educational hierarchy which piles so-called unfunded mandates on all of New York's public schools no matter the number of students or tax base. These mandates, according to Baker, mean districts like many in Chautauqua County spend time and money trying to comply with them and actual educational resources become more and more limited.
"I'm not in the mood to kowtow to anything the state is saying anymore," Baker said.