Tuition increase limits available high schools

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 6/27/2022 9:21:49 PM
Modified: 6/29/2022 9:33:37 AM

PIERMONT — Families are losing at least one option for high school under the current tuition cap in the Piermont School Board’s school choice policy.

St. Johnsbury Academy, a private high school in St. Johnsbury, Vt. currently enrolls “three or four” of Piermont’s students, and another Piermont student had hoped to enroll this fall, according to SAU 23 Superintendent Laurie Melanson.

But St. Johnsbury announced that its tuition will increase this coming fall to $20,855, which exceeds Piermont’s tuition maximum by approximately 8%. 

Board members discussed pursuing a policy revision at their meeting on June 6 but decided to hold off on a decision until receiving information about other schools’ tuition costs. 

“It’s not a closed issue,” Piermont School Board Chairman Glen Meder said. “It’s something that we can continue to review down the line or put to a public vote at a district meeting.”

Piermont’s tuition formula is established in a district policy that the board could only change through a formal policy revision process.

Piermont, a small district of 83 students in K-12, is one of four New Hampshire districts in the Upper Valley, along with Cornish, Lyme and Croydon, to pay tuition for secondary school. 

Piermont’s secondary school program offers a choice of three neighboring public high schools, Piermont’s designated “receiving schools:” Woodsville High School; Oxbow High School in Bradford, Vt.; and Rivendell Academy in Orford.

The Piermont School Board also may create tuition contracts with other schools, public or private, provided the school’s tuition rate falls within Piermont’s funding cap, which is set at “the average of the three (receiving) schools plus 18%.” 

Currently that tuition cap equals $19,758.

Piermont’s tuition policy, created 17 years ago, prohibits the board from contracting with schools whose tuition exceeds the district’s cap. 

The policy does permit the board, “at its discretion,” to exceed the tuition limit for students who were enrolled prior to the tuition hike. 

According to Meder, Piermont will continue paying tuition for the students currently attending St. Johnsbury Academy. However, a 10th-grade student who had hoped to transfer next year to St. Johnsbury will not be allowed to do so, because of Piermont’s inability to create an enrollment contract for the student. 

Many New Hampshire districts with school choice, including Croydon and Cornish, will split the tuition burden with a student’s family when a school exceeds the sending district’s maximum allowance. In these situations, the sending district will pay the tuition up to its cap (which is typically the tuition rate of the district’s primary receiving school system).  The student’s family is required to pay the remainder. 

The Piermont School Board explored changing its policy to allow families to pay the tuition difference, but attorneys consulted by the school district warned that changing the policy could result in the district legally having to reimburse families who, under the current policy, had to pay full tuition to those same schools. 

While New Hampshire law does not prohibit districts from splitting the tuition costs with parents, so long as the district provides at least one fully-funded education option, attorneys said that changing to a policy of paying a tuition for families that the district previously denied to other families could raise legal questions about fairness and equality, Meder explained. 

“The lawyers we spoke to all agreed it is a liability,” Meder said. “I can only speak for myself, but it’s not my place to put the public into a liability situation.” 

Meder said the town could choose to change the policy by adding it to the school warrant in March for a vote, which he would prefer to having the board decide for the town. 

The School Board also wants to research tuition rate changes at other schools to determine whether to recommend increasing Piermont’s tuition cap. The town voters would need to approve an increase, which could be held either at next year’s annual district meeting in March or in a special meeting authorized by the School Board.

Piermont’s next board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 16. 

Patrick Adrian can be reached at pfadrian25@gmail.com.




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