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Gainesville schools may hike out-of-district tuition rate
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The Gainesville school board is considering multiple proposals for an out-of-district tuition increase, one of which could double tuition to $900 for some students but allow breaks for children of Gainesville alumni and business owners.

At Monday's meeting, the board unanimously agreed it would put off any potential tuition increases until after July 1, but board members expressed varying views on how much out-of-city student tuition should be increased. The board likely will take action on the proposed tuition hike at its Jan. 20 meeting.

Presently, all students living outside Gainesville who attend Gainesville schools are permitted to do so at an annual cost of $450, if space is available.

Gainesville schools Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said she is wary of a tuition hike because it might deter some of the 6,000-student system's 408 tuition-paying students from enrolling in the school system for the 2009-2010 school year.

"We have room," Dyer said. "... First and foremost, my concern is that we don't lose enrollment."

At its July board meeting, the board began exploring a tuition hike. This past fall, the school board's finance committee held three public hearings regarding tuition, all of which had about 60 people in attendance, according to Gainesville school board member and finance committee Chairman Sammy Smith.

Gainesville school board Chairman David Syfan said the board has been weighing the issue carefully, aiming to make out-of-district tuition rates comparable with Gainesville residents' recent 12 percent property tax increase.

"It's a hard issue because you have a lot of factors going on. I know we have all sort of struggled with what is fair to the tuition-paying parents and resident parents," Syfan said. "... My thought is if all the resident parents are kicking in to help the school system, then the tuition-paying parents should kick in to help the school system."

Smith proposed the board adopt a new tuition rate structure that would require out-of-city families to fork over $900, payable in full, per semester or per month, for the family's first student. Smith proposed the family's second student would receive a Gainesville education at an annual cost of $600 and the family's third student at $300.

Additionally, Smith suggested if an out-of-city student had parents who graduated from Gainesville or E.E. Butler High schools, they would be charged $600 per year per student rather than $900 per year. Also in Smith's plan, out-of-city children of Gainesville business owners would be required to pay $500 per year per child.

Syfan suggested the board consider increasing tuition to $585 for a family's first student and charging an additional $45 thereafter for each subsequent child in a family.

Only one tuition-paying parent attended the meeting.

Amanda Anderson, a Habersham County resident, said she opted to send her two daughters to Enota Multiple Intelligences Academy because she feels that is the best education she can provide with her income.

Anderson said she feels a tuition increase reflecting the 12 percent property tax increase is fair, but she may have to consider pulling her children from the school system if Smith's plan is adopted.

"I understand that if the city taxes went up that much," Anderson said. "... If they went up to $1,500 a year (for my two children), I don't know if I could afford that. We would have to sit down and see where we could make sacrifices."

Anderson said she also felt tuition students and their families are often very involved in the school system, and if tuition was raised, the school system may risk losing some of those quality students and parent volunteers.

Also at the board meeting, Dyer said the school system is prepared to reduce spending by about $394,000 to help meet about $524,000 in state budget cuts to be implemented this year. She said school system costs were reduced due to attrition as well as to reductions in public relations, school supply and extra transportation expenditures. Dyer also didn't take a nearly $17,000 salary increase when she was promoted to superintendent.

Dyer said she is "pretty confident" the school system can reduce spending in energy and transportation expenses to meet the remaining $130,000 in state cuts.

If not, the school system may implement a one-day furlough for all 12-month certified employees, such as central office workers and principals, which would save the system $30,000. At worst, Dyer said the system could implement a one-day furlough for other certified staff, including teachers, saving the system $200,000. Furloughing teachers one day would provide the system a $100,000 "cushion," she added.