Districts welcome tuition-paying students

by Merri Rosenberg

On Board Online • July 24, 2017

By Merri Rosenberg
Special Correspondent

Looking to boost their enrollment numbers this fall, some districts are putting out the welcome mat for out-of-district families who are willing to pay tuition of $10,000 to $25,000 per child.

On YouTube, the Tuxedo school district has a promotional video that ends with the message: "Now open to non-district students" and "Enroll your student today!" The Orange County district charges $14,312 for non-resident students in grades 7-12.

The district is trying to bounce back from an enrollment decline from 474 students to 247. A neighboring K-8 district, Greenwood Lake, used to send its high school students to Tuxedo but no longer does.

So Tuxedo, which had already established a non-resident tuition policy in 2013, has expanded its efforts to attract additional students. The district is using social media, online advertising, newspaper ads and even lawn signs.

Prospective students and their parents get tours of the building, including pairing students with a Tuxedo student in the grade they'd be entering, said Tuxedo principal Jason Schrammel.

Other districts skip the advertising blitz but find parents knocking on their doors nevertheless. The Ardsley school district, in Weschester County, attracts dozens of out-of-district students, thanks to its special education program. In the last school year, 21 districts sent 48 K-12 students to Ardsley's special education programs, and another 34 students attended because their parents paid tuition of $21,888 for grades 7-12 or $18,074 for K-6.

"We have a high-quality special education program and are happy to take students," said superintendent Lauren Allan. She said some districts find it more economical to send students to Ardsley to be sure all goals in their individualized education programs are met, and Ardsley makes room if it has the capacity.

Still, because of recent residential development, the district is pulling back from accepting non-special education tuition-paying students, Allan said in an email.

Bronxville, also in Westchester, recently had about 10 tuition-paying students, including some from Manhattan who have told school officials that they choose Bronxville instead of a private school. Thanks to the district's reputation for academic excellence and special education programs, it finds parents willing to pay $25,000 per student.

Anticipated out-of-district revenues from Bronxville's special education program, which has been in place for the past decade, will provide $1.25 million of the district's $47.1 million budget. "This offsets a lot of the expenses of hiring teachers and aides," said Dan Carlin, assistant superintendent of business. Total out-of-district tuition revenues are $1.425 million.

There are rigorous expectations for the non-resident students. "There's a high bar to get in, and a higher bar to stay in," said Carlin. "We expect them to be a contributing member of the community. If there are discipline problems or grades that are failing, they could be asked to leave. Our tuition kids are among the best, and most avail themselves of every opportunity."

Westchester's Blind Brook school district explored ways to uncover alternatives for revenue about a decade ago, said Superintendent Jonathan Ross.

While "we have a lawful obligation to educate our students," he said, "there's the matter of trying to generate revenues other than tax revenues."

There were 20 out-of-district tuition-paying students this past year, with most in the upper school. Students come from neighboring Harrison, New Rochelle, Port Chester and White Plains, as well as nearby Greenwich and Stamford, Conn. Tuition for next year is $20,775 for K-6 and $19,380 for grades 7-12.

"There's high demand," said Ross. "We want to be sure there's a good match for the child."

Applicants are expected to have an interview with the principal of the respective school they'd like to attend, take a tour, do an intake registration, interview with the superintendent, and ultimately have the application approved by the school board.

Some rural districts have also come up with creative ways to attract tuition-paying students. For the past decade, the Newcomb school district in the Adirondacks has actively solicited foreign students, as well as students from neighboring communities and even students from other states.

"Our main purpose is not financial," said superintendent, Clark "Skip" Hults, whose district has 92 students from pre-K through 12th grade. Students from abroad provides "a diversity of culture we've needed," he said.

"We've been doing this for 10 years, and I can't find a downside," he said. "It's strengthened the academic program, and our students are being challenged academically and socially. Now our kids are going overseas to visit, and when they go to college, are feeling much more secure."

Under federal regulations, international students are able to attend the high school for a maximum of a year, Hults said. [Editor's note: NYSSBA is seeking a change in F1 visas to permit longer stays.]

The tuition is $3,500, with an additional $6,000 for boarding with a host family. During the past decade, the district has welcomed about 115 international students from 29 countries, including Spain, France, Switzerland, Finland, Russia, Iraq, Australia, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.

Newcomb's success in this area has inspired other Adirondack districts, such as Minerva, Schroon Lake, Indian Lake and Long Lake, to embark on their own programs.

Newcomb also has about a dozen students who come from other New York districts, North Carolina, Alaska and Florida. Otherwise these students would attend "big, struggling schools," Hults said.

One common trait among districts that attract tuition-paying students is smallness, particularly at the high school level. Tuxedo High just had 109 students this year.

"Some students have a difficult time in large high schools," said Tuxedo Superintendent Nancy Teed. The non-resident students "fit well, and are involved in many extra-curricular activities," she said. To date, out-of-district students have entered in seventh, eighth and ninth grade. More than 70 percent of the out-of-district students come from Orange County, with the rest from Rockland.

Tuxedo also pitches its K-12 STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program. Elementary students learn coding, and as students move along, there are options for classes in materials science and engineering, for example.

Students also learn skills in collaboration and presentation, added Marco Margotta, the district's STEM advisor.

The district, which has a non-resident tuition of $14,312 for the secondary school, and $11,108 for the elementary school, also has non-need based scholarship money (either $4,000 or $6,000). The local Mulford Foundation awards scholarships to applicants with high grade point averages and an interest in STEM.

There were seven tuition students enrolled in the secondary school this past year, and Teed said the district hopes to enroll seven to 11 more this fall.

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