Out of District Students Are Focus Of Highland School Board Meeting

There were approximately 100 folding chairs set up in the Highland School cafeteria Monday evening, in anticipation of heavy attendance for the Highland School Board’s regular monthly meeting. That was a wise bit of preparation, because when the meeting began, all but a handful of seats were occupied. Between 80 and 90 teachers, parents and concerned citizens attended the meeting, most drawn for interest in two items of business, step and salary increases for teachers and staff, and the consideration of attendance by out of district students to Highland Schools.

Board chair Sherry Sullenberger addressed the crowd as the meeting began, saying she was encouraged by the amount in attendance, and hoped such involvement continued. She acknowledged most were in attendance due to concerns about out of district students, which she attributed to a meeting between the superintendent and parents, amplified by social media. She apologized for any fear and concern caused, and said no discussion or decision had occurred with the full Board, and that the meeting would ultimately produce a policy that was best for the school system.

When the agenda turned to the two prominent items, Superintendent Dr. Thomas Schott gave a presentation addressing the pertinent facts. For the step and raise items, he explained he proposed step increases, which are automatically added to salary based on the number of year’s of teaching experience, be raised to $610, and those steps be pushed out to 35 years from the current 30 year limit. In addition, he proposes a flat pay raise of $500 for teachers, and $250 for other staff positions.

He then addressed the out of district students, noting that there are three areas where the positive and negative impact of these students are evaluated – academically, athletically, and financially. Currently, there are 10 elementary and 11 high school out of district students.

Academically, half of these students are on the honor roll, and they increase class size, discussions, experiences and club participation. The students are vetted for attendance, grades and behavior before they are added to the list of students the Board approves each year for attendance.

Athletically, 8 of the 11 teams the school fields include out of district students, and of special note, varsity boys basketball and baseball teams could not compete without them.

And financially, Dr. Schott showed that these students account for $8, 094.21 funding apiece from the state. Denying these students from attending would not positively affect the total school budget from a fixed cost perspective, and would in fact require the school’s requested amount for funding from the county to increase by approximately $202,350, based on the current approved budget.

He addressed the possibility of tuition, but noted that even if tuition were charged, a net loss is likely. He ended his presentation with recommendation to the Board that the current policy of allowing students to attend tuition free be continued.

In the ensuing public comments, 8 speakers, including teachers and parents, giving their own opinions, as well as reading letters to the Board from students. All were overwhelmingly in favor of the salary increases and for students to continue to attend tuition free, and the Board ultimately agreed with this opinion, passing both unanimously.

A question was asked late in the meeting as to whether this discussion occurs every year. I too had that question, since the out of district issue was raised at a meeting earlier this spring, and I thought the policy had been explained to satisfaction at that time. Dr. Schott noted it does happen every year, but usually without this level of explanation. Board member Kenny Hodges pointed out that the two new members of the Board are also trying to find out all they can about the facts, and Mrs. Sullenberger added that during the election process, candidates had been approached by a faction of concerned taxpayers who were worried about financial burdens to the county, which she hoped were allayed by the meeting.

To delve a bit more into why this issue re-surfaced, I followed up with Dr. Schott and the Board. Stay tuned for those stories.

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Scott Smith

Scott is the News Director for Allegheny Mountain Radio and Station Coordinator and News Reporter for WVLS. Scott’s family has deep roots in Highland County. While he did not grow up here, he spent as much time as possible on the family farm, and eventually moved to Highland to continue the tradition, which he still pursues with his cousin. Unfortunately, farming doesn’t pay all the bills, so he has taken other jobs to support his farming hobby, including pressman/writer for The Recorder, and Ag Projects Coordinator for The Highland Center. He lives in Hightown with wife Michelle and son Ethan, and also is a member of the boards of the Highland-Bath Farm Bureau , Highland Chamber of Commerce and Highland Sheep and Wool Association. In his spare time, he wishes he had more spare time, especially to ride his prized Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

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