Council gets briefing on tuition agreement with Milan

By Barbara Tetreault

BERLIN — Berlin school officials this week briefed the city council on the new exclusive tuition agreement between Berlin and Milan school districts.

Mayor Paul Grenier said he would not fight the agreement this time but warned he will oppose future ones if Berlin does not receive the same tuition reimbursement as other schools that accept Milan students.

The two school districts currently have an AREA agreement that runs through the 2017-18 school year. Milan residents this March voted not to enter into another AREA agreement and instead to negotiate an exclusive tuition agreement. The new tuition agreement runs three years, starting July 1, 2018.

The exclusive tuition allows Milan parents and school board more flexibility in school choice. Under an AREA agreement, all Milan middle and high school students must go to Berlin. Parents can send their students to a different public school only if they can prove doing so is in the best interest of the child or denying the request would constitute an educational hardship. Both the Berlin and Milan school boards must approve the decision.

The exclusive tuition agreement gives parents the option to send their children to a different public school without meeting special criteria. Only the Milan school board has to approve the request.

The Milan school district will only provide transportation for students attending the Berlin middle and high schools. Parents sending children to other public schools would be required to provide transportation.

Paul Bousquet, superintendent of SAU 20, which includes Milan and the Gorham, Randolph, Shelburne Cooperative School District, said negotiating the agreement had been a long but good process.

Grenier asked why the tuition rate per student was determined on state Department of Education figures two years prior and not on actual costs. Berlin Superintendent of Schools Corinne Cascadden and Business Administrator Bryan Lamirande explained that Milan approves its school budget in March and costs for the year are not available. He said the state usually comes out with its figures in the fall after the school year. The mayor said he thought they could use at least the previous year’s rate.

Grenier said he is bothered by the fact Milan pays a higher tuition rate per pupil for the seven students it sends to the Gorham, Randolph, Shelburne school district than it pays Berlin. Based on 2014-15 rates, Milan pays Gorham a rate of $15,844 per middle school student and $16,267 per high school student. For Berlin, the rate is $14,270 per middle school student and $15,199 per high school student.

He said it is not fair to Berlin that Milan pays more per student to the GRS school district than it does to Berlin.

Bousquet said the rate fluctuates and sometimes the difference is minor. He said Milan residents overwhelmingly prefer to send their kids to Berlin. He said only a few have chosen to send their children to Gorham. Bousquet reminded Grenier and the council that Milan voters rejected joining the GRS cooperative district.

Given that the agreement does not need council approval, Grenier said he was not going to ask for a vote of support for fear of embarrassing the district if it failed to get a majority of council votes.