A University Place School Board member wants to charge tuition for out-of-district students, who make up nearly a fifth of the school district’s approximately 5,600 students.
The idea, put forward by board member Annie Fitzsimmons, got a lukewarm reception from other board members at a Wednesday night meeting. They questioned whether the idea would be allowed under state law.
“I’m just saying we should look at it,” Fitzsimmons said. “With 20 percent of our kids out-of-district, it deserves a closer look.”
University Place attracts students from neighboring districts, primarily from its much larger next-door-neighbor. Of the 1,062 students from outside University Place who attend UP schools, 795 come from Tacoma, according to district statistics gathered in November. And of those 795, a total of 253 are students who live in a part of University Place that falls within the boundaries of the Tacoma School District.
Several efforts over the years by UP parents to change those boundaries have been unsuccessful.
Other students come to UP schools from the Clover Park district in Lakewood, Bethel, Franklin Pierce, Steilacoom and other districts in Pierce, King and Kitsap counties.
Under state law, parents can send their children to a district other than the one in which they live, as long as certain criteria are met.
While out-of-district students bring state basic education funding, along with other state and federal dollars, with them, they do not carry local levy dollars.
Fitzsimmons said that means UP district residents subsidize out-of-district kids. And she says that’s not fair to UP taxpayers.
Longtime UP resident Terry Larson agrees.
“I’m not against out-of-district kids coming here,” he said. “I just want them to pay what I pay.”
He also said he believes there are more “soft costs” for transfer students that aren’t figured into district calculations. He points to recent efforts to add capacity at the high school gym and pool.
Fitzsimmons said she wants district staff to explore out-of-district student tuition, and to ask for an attorney general’s opinion.
Superintendent Patti Banks said Thursday that she contacted the school district’s attorney, who told her he believes state law was specifically changed to prohibit tuition collection. Banks said the attorney will do further analysis.
According to the district, the average UP homeowner pays about $8.13 monthly, or just under $100 a year, in extra levy dollars due to the presence of out-of-district kids. Local levies are based on a percentage of total state and federal dollars a district receives. So anything that drives up those revenues increases a district’s levy capacity, Banks explained.
But she said University Place gains more than it loses from transfer students, both in terms of dollars and programs.
While UP spends more to provide teaching staff for the extra kids, the transfers also bring in extra funding from federal and state sources for special education, low-income students, highly capable students and students who need remedial help. They also help generate state levy equalization dollars.
The district calculates the net gain at just over $3 million.
District officials say transfer kids also ensure there’s a critical mass of students for rigorous classes such as high school Advanced Placement courses, foreign language offerings and the performing arts.
UP’s sole high school, Curtis, offers fourth-year French and Japanese classes, AP physics and other classes that might be difficult to fill without the 329 out-of-district students.
“It’s hard to come up with any other conclusion other than that this benefits the resident students of University Place,” Banks said.
Board member Christine Kilduff said the local subsidy isn’t outrageous.
“I pay more than that at Starbucks each month,” Kilduff said, referring to the $8.13. Still, she said the board needs more information on the legal issues before it can consider Fitzsimmons’ proposal.
A staff presentation to board members Wednesday offered a statistical and financial analysis of the issue.
• Demographic data shows that the racial and ethnic makeup of the out-of-district students roughly mirrors that of resident UP kids. A little over 55 percent of transfer kids are white; just under 53 percent of resident kids are. Black students make up about 8 percent of transfer students, and just under 10 percent of resident students. A slightly higher percentage of transfer students are Asian, while a slightly higher percentage of resident students are Hispanic.
• Just under 22 percent of transfer kids qualify for free lunch, a widely used marker for poverty. Among resident students, the figure is just over 31 percent.
• A total of 9 percent of the district’s special education population comes from outside the school district.
Kathleen Rath, whose oldest son moved to UP schools from Tacoma to escape bullying, said families make the transfer for a quality education.
Her younger son is still a Tacoma student, and she said she appreciates the work his teachers and administrators there do. But she believes they have “an uphill battle.”Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635 debbie.cafazzo@ thenewstribune.com