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Gainesville might increase tuition for out-of-district students
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Tuition for out-of-district Gainesville school system students could go up this school year.

With the Gainesville City Board of Education considering a 12 percent property tax increase for Gainesville residents, the board is considering a proportional tuition increase.

Currently, students who live outside Gainesville city limits are required to pay $450 in tuition at the beginning of the school year to attend Gainesville schools. At its July board meeting, the school board requested Gainesville schools interim Superintendent Merrianne Dyer study tuition rates. At Monday’s meeting, Dyer recommended the board raise the tuition rate to $504, with payment due in January.

"If we have a tuition increase at all, that is what I would recommend ... And that’s heavy on the if," Dyer said. "City residents, when their taxes are raised, have natural resentment against residents who do not pay city taxes who receive city services."

Dyer said Gainesville schools have a tradition of school choice. If classroom space is available, local residents inside and outside of Gainesville are able to choose if and which Gainesville school they would like their child to attend.

According to a tuition impact study conducted by the Gainesville school system in the past month, there are 408 tuition students attending Gainesville schools in the 2008-2009 school year. Tuition student revenue and employee child revenue provided the school system with about $172,399 in the 2005-2006 school year, including tuition, local, state and federal grants per child.

Dyer said the 2005-2006 school figures were the last fiscal year filed with the state Department of Education. The financial situation of the school system has delayed the filing of financial statements for the 2007-2008 school year.

According to the study, there are currently 145 Gainesville school system employees’ children who live outside the city limits and are not required to pay tuition to attend city schools.

Dyer said while employees’ children do not generate tuition funds, they do generate state funds as a portion of total enrollment grants. "If we had less children, we’d have less revenue," she said.

The Gainesville City Board of Education approved public hearings regarding the proposed tuition increase with a 3-2 vote. Board members Willie Mitchell and Maria Calkins dissented.

Board member Kelvin Simmons said he believes the 12 percent increase is fair and wants to hold hearings to clarify some misconceptions parents might have of tuition students.

"I just want the community to understand that we do get money for those kids from the state," he said. "We don’t lose money from having tuition kids."

Mitchell said he voted against the public hearings because he does not approve of a tuition increase. He said tuition students bring diversity and academic strength to the school system, as well as some much needed funds.

"I would hate to do anything that would lose any of these people," he said.

Dyer said she believes the $54 increase would not deter many tuition-paying parents, who are highly involved in school activities, from enrolling their child in Gainesville schools.

"We don’t want to lose the people who care and are involved, and who support the activities their children are involved in," she said.

David Syfan, Gainesville city school board chairman, said the first public hearing regarding tuition could be held in late September or early October. Board member Sammy Smith said the board voted to have the public hearings to allow parents to help the board arrive at a reasonable and logical new tuition policy.

According to the tuition impact study, the greatest number of tuition students are enrolled at Centennial Arts Academy and Gainesville High School. The study reports there are 114 tuition students at Centennial Arts Academy and 140 tuition students at Gainesville High School.

All seven Gainesville schools retain tuition students, according to the study. There are only six tuition students at Gainesville Exploration Academy and six tuition students at Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School.

The school system also received 76 survey responses in the past month from parents who pay tuition for their children to attend Gainesville schools.

In the comment portion of the survey, parents’ remarks regarding a proposed tuition hike ranged from gratitude for allowing their students to attend the schools to stating they would not be able to afford the tuition hike and would be forced to remove their children from the school system. Others stated they felt they shouldn’t have to pay tuition for living outside the city since they maintain residential or commercial properties in the city.

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