RIPLEY - The Ripley Central School Board of Education approved a final contract recently to send students in grades seven through 12 to Chautauqua Lake Central School next school year at a tuition rate of $7,219 per student.
The contract still must be signed by officials from Chautauqua Lake before it takes effect. Although the agreement is for five years - from July 1, 2013, through June 30, 2018 - the two districts will negotiate a new rate after two years, Ripley Superintendent Karen Krause said. If the districts cannot reach an agreement, tuition will be increased by 2 percent, she said.
The district projects 131 students will be attending CLCS next year at a total tuition cost of $938,500, according to a proposed budget for the coming year. Board member Ted Rickenbrode, who presented the budget for the 2013-14 school year, noted the district already had $100,000 earmarked for tuition costs in previous years because of students who attended other districts.
However, if a student attends Erie 2-Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Board of Cooperative Educational Services, or BOCES, for the full day, that student's tuition will be paid directly to BOCES by Ripley. Krause noted this is beneficial to Ripley because it has a higher aid ratio than that of Chautauqua Lake. Also, if a student attends BOCES for a half-day, the tuition rate will be $3,609.50, she said. Students in the special education program will be billed at the cost established by their individualized program.
Rickenbrode said the contract could result in a 4.1 percent overall reduction in the tax levy, or a projected decrease of about $1.20 per $1,000.
"This year is kind of a transitional year," Rickenbrode said, noting several changes caused by the tuitioning agreement. "I think we've put together a sustainable budget that will work for four or five years without hitting up on the tax cap."
A big part of the savings in the new budget comes from the elimination of teacher salaries and benefits for grades seven through 12, Rickenbrode said. Transportation costs and bus driver salaries will increase significantly since, under the contract, Ripley is responsible for getting the students to and from Chautauqua Lake.
Krause said the budget was difficult to put together and may need some "tweaking" before final approval and public release after the board's Thursday, April 11 meeting.
"We don't have a lot of models to go on," she said. "It's all new right now."
Board President Robert Bentley noted, in response to rumors, the contract will not affect the School Tax Assessment Relief, or STAR, program for the community.
The tuition contract also makes Chautauqua Lake responsible for the special education program, Krause said. It will be required to notify Ripley when the Committee on Special Education, or CSE, meets as well as have someone from Ripley on the CSE board.
Furthermore, the contract stipulates Ripley students will not be penalized in the event they are prevented from attending Chautauqua Lake because of weather, Krause said. The contract also contains a clause allowing the districts to terminate the contract should regional high school legislation pass in the New York State Legislature.
The board did approve the purchase of two new school buses in response to the increased need for transportation. District transportation manager Rhonda Nelson told the board the school was in "desperate need."
The school already has a five-year contract with New York Bus Sales to purchase one bus per year. The second bus will replace bus 56, a 1999 International model with 104,000 miles, which will be put out for bids.
The new buses will come with the additional safety options of storm glass and an air door, Nelson said. The vehicles will also have 100-gallon fuel tanks instead of the standard 65-gallon tank. Nelson said this would save time by reducing the need to fill the tanks as often.
While the district pays up front for a bus, it receives 90 percent reimbursement over five years from state money, making its actual cost $11,000. Financial manger Louann Bahgat said the district would finance the cost of the two buses.