Editor’s Note: This article incorrectly stated that a policy committee was specifically created for the purpose of addressing out-of-county tuition.
Watauga County Schools Supt. David Kafitz recently emailed High Country Press and wrote, “The purpose of the policy committee will be to better manage the creation, revision, and review process of all school board policies for the system into the future. This is not a one topic task force.”
High Country Press apologizes for the error and any confusion caused.
By Jesse Wood
Sept. 11, 2012. At Monday’s Watauga County Board of Education meeting, Director of Student Services and Safe Schools Clarissa Schmal presented the current tuition figures for out-of-county students enrolled in WCS.
The numbers are alarming enough that a policy committee will examine out-of-county tuition fees. The committee was formally proposed in August to address all policies, including concerns that local taxpayers are footing the bill for out-of-county students.
Only three percent of the 93 out-of-county students are paying full tuition at $2,708. And only 11 percent are paying any tuition at all. One child’s full tuition has a tax reduction rate of $1,397, and six students pay the reduced sibling rate of $1,070.
All in all, this nets WCS $15,942 for those 10 paying students.
Up until the 2008, Watauga County Board of Education didn’t require out-of-county students who were enrolled in Watauga County Schools to pay tuition.
The reason behind the initial no-fee policy was that an equal amount of students were transferring to and from area schools and therefore, for example, an Ashe County student transferring to WCS would cancel out a Watauga student transferring to Ashe County Schools.
“We have 93 students coming in from out of the county. I don’t believe it’s anywhere near that going out of Watauga County for schooling,” Supt. David Kafitz said.
As for the other 83 students not paying any tuition, 36 have been grandfathered in from the original 2008-09 policy. For example, an out-of-county kindergartener who was attending WCS before the initial policy doesn’t have to pay any form of tuition upon graduating the 12th grade.
Another 27 students don’t pay tuition fees because of another precedent in the original policy exempting students who reside in five out-of-county communities “that are very connected literally to Watauga County roads,” Schmal said, adding that if someone owns property in the county, that person receives a dollar for dollar reduction on his or her kids’ tuition.
And finally, 20 students don’t pay any tuition because his or her parents work in the school system.
Kafitz “doesn’t have a problem” with the free tuition granted to kids of parents who teach in the school systems because WCS is “interested in attracting high quality teachers,” he said.
It does appear, though, that a committee will look into the fee structures of those who are not sons and daughters of faculty or staff in WCS.
“Only 10 are paying any form of tuition to Watauga County Schools. From those 68 students we are not collecting, it costs us about $180,000 to $200,000 a year,” Kafitz said. “That is not an insignificant amount of money.”
Kafitz added that a new policy committee will look into: “How do we charge students from out of the county?”
Chair Deborah Miller chimed in after Kafitz and Schmal spoke.
“We have a responsibility to county taxpayers and more importantly to students who are here,” Miller said, adding that every out-of-county student takes the place of a Watauga County student, perhaps, in grade-point average, on a sports team, a school band or chorus group and a drama play, etc.
“First and foremost, our responsibility is to our students of Watauga,” Miller said.