The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


August 10, 2012

Superintendent: Rescuing students from failing schools is expensive

LEWISBURG — The Lewisburg Area School District will not take part in the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit Program, as it would cost the district nearly $2,400 per extra student and nearly $5,000 per extra special-education student to make up what the scholarship wouldn’t cover.

The school board agreed unanimously with six members present not to become a “participating public school,” which would have let them take students from regional schools deemed low-achieving. Midd-West High School in Middleburg and two Shikellamy elementary schools are on that list.

Superintendent Mark DiRocco told the school board about the 2012-13 “funding for charter schools” document, which school districts use to determine per-student tuition.

It showed it will cost Lewisburg $10,888 per-student this school year, and $19,799 per-special education student.

The legislation that founded the scholarship program caps the amount at $8,500 per student and $15,000 per special education student, and “we simply cannot afford the difference,” DiRocco said. The specific cost to Lewisburg would have been $2,388 per student and $4,799 per special education student.

Unlike with charter schools, where the money follows the student to the school, the per-student tuition would stay with the “sending” school district.

School board members Mark Hendrickson, Tera Unzicker-Fassero and Edward Zych were not at the meeting.

DiRocco cited the “rush” that Pennsylvania school districts face, “and we still don’t have all the details” from the Department of Education as all must decide by Aug. 15, if they will take part in the scholarship program. They’ll revisit the issue in February, which will become the regular deadline for participation.

“It’s not to say that we won’t revisit this issue in February, or each year,” DiRocco said, “but what it will cost our taxpayers now and in the future will be a concern.”

DiRocco also noted the danger of accepting students from other schools this year if Lewisburg found it couldn’t accept them the following year.

“Studies have shown that a lot of transition from one school to another is one of the worst things you can do to a student,” he said.

In other school board news:

n Kindergarten enrollment is now at 126, up from 114 last month.

n The school board approved a revised facilities use fee schedule that drops charges after it was found current prices to use school district properties were proving a hardship for many groups.

n There will be no activity fee to take part in marching band, as band is considered part of a symphonic band course on which students are graded. Those who have paid the activity fee already will be reimbursed.

n The school board will tour Midd-West High School Aug. 20 to see the work Crabtree, Rohrbaugh & Associates architects did on that school’s renovation. The Mechanicsburg firm is the possible architect for Lewisburg’s planned new high school.

n The school district received an application for the New Berlin Regional Charter School, DiRocco said, adding a charter school board member visited him Thursday to confirm he got it. He did not have further comments to the school board, pending his review of the document and what actions they will need to take in response.

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