Falmouth schools may accept out-of-town students

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FALMOUTH — The School Board is considering a policy that would allow non-residents to pay to send their children to Falmouth schools starting this fall.

The board held a first reading of the proposed policy Tuesday night, and scheduled a May 15 public hearing and vote. School officials said they expect up to seven students to enroll if the policy is approved.

The policy would allow students from other towns to apply to attend Falmouth schools, subject to space availability. The School Department will charge the tuition rate set by the state, which ranges from $9,000 to $10,000 per year depending on grade level.

Superintendent of Schools Barbara Powers said the policy is in response to an “extremely high” number of inquiries from parents in other communities who are interested in paying to send their children to Falmouth schools.

North Yarmouth and Cumberland schools in School Administrative District 51 accept non-resident tuition students, and the Falmouth policy is based on language from that district.

Powers said interest in Falmouth schools from non-residents seemed to pick up after the district was ranked No. 1 on the list of “Best Schools for Your Real Estate Buck” by Forbes and the nonprofit group GreatSchools in April 2011.

“With the national publicity that Falmouth experienced, interest shifted our way,” she said.

The policy comes on the heels of increasing pressure on property tax rates, Powers said. The Town Council this week approved a $29 million school budget that adds 50 cents to the property tax rate.

“This is a way for us to increase revenue,” Powers said.

Under the policy, applications from non-resident students would be reviewed by an admissions committee that will include principals, guidance counselors and Powers. Students will only be admitted when space allows and would be required to obey all district rules and policies. The School Department will not provide them with transportation.

Falmouth schools will have no obligation to tuition-paying students under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which says students must be provided a free and appropriate education. Powers said the policy makes “very clear we’re not asking Falmouth taxpayers to provide a free and appropriate education” to tuition-paying students with special needs.

School Board member Christopher Murry Jr. said the policy protects the schools from “surprise obligations” and gives the superintendent the authority to reject applicants through the admissions committee.

School Board member Andrew Kinley said he wants to ensure the policy allows students to continue to participate in sports and activities that may extend beyond the end of the academic year, when the contract signed by families would expire.

Powers said she will look into that issue before the May 15 meeting.

Gillian Graham can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or ggraham@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @grahamgillian.