Highland School Board May Meeting
A trio of Highland County residents attended the May meeting of the Highland County School Board to air a grievance with the Board on an attendance policy.
“I’m Steve Varner, and I’m from Headwaters, and I have a question. By accident, going by the bus stop every morning, I see West Virginia vehicles sitting there. And I did some checking around, and found out, the West Virginia kids are coming to this school, in this county. And I’m paying taxes, on state and Highland County taxes – and they’re not paying nothing. They’re not paying no tuition or anything. And, they’re talking about the budget, and that’s what’s got me.”
He continued, “You know, I’m paying for another state’s kids, to educate them, and why is that, when we’re educating West Virginia kids for free, when we’re having problems and always got to up the budget? And, I’m just at one place, and I was made aware that there’s like three or four places in the county they’re catching the buses. I just know what’s going on in front of my house, and there’s more than just that bunch that’s getting on there.”
He concluded, “And if you figure it up – what it costs to educate these kids is $21,000 a head. If there’s 10 of them, that’s over $200,000 – so, why am I paying for them to come to school here?”
Mr. Varner was joined by his father Elmo and Robert Lambert in questioning the Board. The elder Varner provided the Board and Superintendent Dr. Thomas Schott with copies of Section 22.1-3 of the Virginia State Code, which speaks of free schooling only for children who reside within the school division. He stated more than once that he intended to go to Richmond to find out more about the legality of the policy, and with budgets and taxes increasing in the county, it had to stop.
Dr. Schott replied that Highland Schools had historically accepted West Virginia students, and 11 students from the state are currently enrolled. The system does have a policy where they could charge tuition, but chooses not to, in order to expand the school’s population. Both he and the Board indicated they would research the matter more, and the gentlemen would be informed of the results.
I followed up with Dr. Schott the next day, and he referenced Virginia Code Section 22.1-5, Regulation 4, which allows out of state students to attend Commonwealth schools, and the matter of tuition to do so was at the discretion of the school board. He also clarified that there are 12 West Virginia students currently enrolled, as well as four students who are children of teachers who reside there. The school system receives a waiver from Pendleton County for them to attend, and he noted that, to the best of his knowledge, all the enrolled students had parents who were employed in Highland County. He stated that students who attend from West Virginia do not draw resources away from Virginia students, and that the compensation received from the state for their attendance more than pays for their education.
Dr. Schott did provide some positive budget news during the meeting, reporting the schools were receiving unexpected funding from the Rural Federal Forest Fund of $44,796, thereby reducing the school’s request from the county by that same amount.