Kalispell looks at fee hike for out-of-district students

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Kalispell Public Schools is looking to double its tuition fees for out-of-district students.

The recommendation came before the board Tuesday to increase the current elementary tuition fee from $350 to $650. On the high school side, the district is proposing the $150 tuition fee be increased to $300. Tuition is meant to recoup a portion of money that would otherwise be paid to schools through taxes from residents living within the district.

If approved, the increases would go into effect in the 2018-19 school year. Families enrolling more than one out-of-district child may see reduced tuition fees for each additional child.

“In a nutshell the fee attached to out-of-district tuition tries to match, on average, what a taxpayer living in district would pay,” Kalispell Public Schools Superintendent Mark Flatau said.

He said that residents have seen taxes increase due to the passage of levies and bonds in recent years and the out-of-district tuition fees are quite low in comparison.

Currently there are 129 out-of-district students attending the two high schools, 62 at the middle school and 13 at the elementary schools. The school district only accepts out-of-district students if space is available. Out-of-district enrollment has been “extremely limited” at the elementary levels due to overcrowding.

Kalispell Public Schools and West Valley School are the only districts in the valley that charge out-of-district tuition, according to the Flathead County Superintendent of Schools.

Some of the reasons students may attend out-of-district schools are for classes, athletics and activities offered or because a staff member living outside the school district may want his or her child to attend school where they work.

Flatau said he had received a request from a staff member to grandfather current out-of-district tuition fees for employees if the tuition fee increase was approved.

“If you recall we had a discussion over a year ago about wanting to not charge our staff any out-of-district [tuition] and when we looked at the statute and sought legal advice we could not do that. We could not discriminate, or basically say you can pay this [amount], but you have to pay this [other amount],” Flatau said.

Trustee Frank Miller said the fee increase would be a bit of a sticker shock to families who are considering out-of-district attendance and wondered if it might be a deterrent, noting that while he realizes the proposed increase is an attempt to reflect what taxpayers contribute, as the district benefits through the thousands of dollars in state funding it receives per student.

The board will review the proposed increase at its March 6 meeting and will look at what a reduced fee schedule will look like for families that have more than one out-of-district children enrolled.

Also during Tuesday’s board meeting trustees adopted a boundary line for high school attendance. U.S. 2 and Idaho Street will now serve as the dividing line. Students living north of U.S. 2 will attend Glacier High School and to the south, Flathead High School. The change impacts a pocket of 19 students, of which seven live in Flathead’s attendance zone, but attend Glacier. These students will be allowed to continue attending their current school when the change goes into effect next school year. The change will not affect partner schools’ high school assignments.

Trustees also approved a slight revision to the new elementary district boundary lines, impacting Russell Elementary and two students.

“So we initially split Summit Ridge [Drive] in half and the north part went to Edgerton and the south part to Russell,” said district Transportation Director Annie Jensen, explaining that the change puts both sides within Russell’s boundaries and keeps the Northridge neighborhood intact.

Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or hmatheson@dailyinterlake.com.

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