By Michelle Levell
On Tuesday, September 6th the state Department of Education and Attorney General dragged the Croydon School Board back in court, accusing them of contempt for paying partial tuition for six students for the 2016-2017 school year.
The NH Superior Court hearing took place in early March. As the months went by without a ruling, Croydon families made plans for the upcoming school year with some choosing to participate in the district’s school choice program. Six middle-school students enrolled in the Newport Montessori School. The tuition is $4,000 less than the cost of the AREA agreement schools, so it is a savings to the town. But, like other private schools, tuition is due in advance and non-refundable. Although payment was due in early June, Croydon did not pay until late July. The judge’s ruling was not issued yet so Croydon paid tuition for the first semester.The ruling was announced on July 29th – after the check was sent – in favor of the state DOE, but the Croydon SAU Superintendent was not aware of it for a few days.
Why Croydon sends school children elsewhere
Like many small districts, Croydon must tuition-out a portion of their students to other districts; they only provide Kindergarten through 4th grade in-district and must send older students to other schools. Families, not the school board, may select the schools that fit their children’s needs from several in the choice program including nearby public and private schools. The town’s financial commitment is pegged to the contracted amount with the AREA agreement district. If tuition at the chosen school is higher, the family is responsible for the difference. However, if tuition is less, the town has a savings.
This program is consistent with several others approved by the state Department of Education. The state currently acknowledges public-private school agreements including some with out-of-state private schools. The Lyme school district has agreements with Thetford Academy and St. Johnsbury Academy in Vermont, and Chatham has a tuition agreement with Fryeburg Academy in Maine.
Despite this, the DOE and Attorney General believe Croydon acted inappropriately and should have presumed the ruling would go against them and not moved forward with their program and tuition payment. Somehow Croydon should have looked into a crystal ball, known the judge’s ruling would be announced shortly, not paid the overdue bill, and forced families to select a different school. At the hearing Associate Attorney General Anne Edwards indicated that the state would consider using force to make the children attend public school.
The NH Superior Court judge did not make an immediate decision, but it is expected soon.
UPDATE: The Superior Court judge ruled against the Attorney General and the Department of Education earlier today.
Originally posted at School Choice for New Hampshire