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Anonymous Donor Pays Boy’s Tuition

L Arriving at Hanover Street School to pick up his son Lucian on Friday, Edmund Vigneault found the third-grader with a group of friends seeing him off on what they feared was his last day at the K-4 elementary school.

Then Vigneault broke the news: Earlier in the afternoon, an anonymous donor had put up the money for Vigneault to pay nonresident tuition to the Lebanon school district for the rest of this academic year. Lucian, 8, would return to Hanover Street with his friends after next week’s April vacation.

“All of his friends had made good-bye cards for him,” Vigneault said after returning home to Windsor, where he lives with Lucian and Lucian’s younger brother. “When they found out he didn’t have to go, he gave everybody hugs.”

And Vigneault, a 1998 graduate of Lebanon High, allowed himself a sigh of relief, after more than a month of trying to convince the school district to waive the tuition charge, with two months left in the school year.

The donor, a father of three who moved to the Upper Valley last summer, emerged from a steady stream of area residents who called and e-mailed the Valley News on Friday to ask how they could help Vigneault pay the tuition — which Vigneault said ended up at $5,152.50 — and keep Lucian at Hanover Street.

“We read the stories the last couple of days,” said the donor, who provided the money that Vigneault then paid. “It looked like a difficult situation for everyone. It seemed like something fairly easy to resolve in the short term.”

Lucian had been attending Hanover Street since moving from Newport to Lebanon with his mother and his brother in the middle of his second-grade year, and he continued to attend classes there after his father took the boys into his Windsor home last October. After the family division of Vermont Superior Court in March awarded full custody of the boys to Vigneault, in light of the “serious mental health crisis” from which the mother suffered last fall, the school district began seeking tuition from Vigneault. In several weeks of back-and-forth, during which the Windsor Southeast Supervisory Union rebuffed a request to pay Lucian’s tuition, Superintendent Gail Paludi cited district policy requiring non-residents to pay tuition, and set a deadline of April 11.

This past Wednesday, the school board, without discussion or a vote, let Paludi’s ruling stand. Vigneault and his mother, Elaine Vigneault of Plainfield, both tried to ask the board to waive the tuition, only to be told that privacy laws prohibit the board from discussing a specific child’s case in a public setting. Chairman Jeff Peavey then offered to let Vigneault address the board in private session at its next meeting on April 23.

After hearing about the donation on Friday, Peavey said, “Great. I’m glad that (Lucian) can stay.” Of the policy on non-resident tuition that the board adopted in 2011, Peavey added, “It will be looked at, to see if there’s any tweaks to be done, so there’s not any gray areas.”

Citing the story in Thursday’s Valley News about the dispute, teachers throughout the Lebanon system spent much of that day discussing whether their union, the Lebanon Education Association, should help Vigneault pay the tuition. By day’s end, despite a majority of members who voted via email in favor of helping the family, the union’s executive board decided that the proposal was unprecedented, and needed more study than the deadline permitted.

Beverly Sletten, a former teacher and ex-member of the Lebanon School Board, praised the school district on Friday for standing its ground and the union leadership for thinking twice about contributing to the Vigneault cause.

“I feel bad for those kids, but I’m not sure we should be paying for the decisions that their parents made,” Sletten said. “This is a pretty complex issue. It’s one that we had to deal with a lot when I was involved with the schools. I give Gail Paludi a lot of credit for setting up a policy.”

Thursday’s setback left Vigneault wondering where to turn next, until the anonymous donor reached him Friday morning and they began working out how to make the payment by the end of the day. While the Windsor superintendent recalled Lebanon requesting about $3,000 in tuition, Vigneault and the donor learned that the final amount, based on out-of-state as well as out-of-city residency, would be $103.05 a day over the last seven weeks of classes.

The donor said he neither begrudges the amount, nor blames school officials or the teachers union for following their policies.

“There’s precedent, and you have to be careful,” the donor said. “One way or another, it’ll get resolved.”

At the end of a long week, Edmund Vigneault knew what he was going to do first, upon arriving home in Windsor with his sons.

“We’re going to go out and have some ice cream,” the father said.

David Corriveau can be reached at dacorriveau@gmail.com and at 603-727-3304