THOMSON - For now, the McDuffie County Board of Education has closed the door on allowing nonresidents the opportunity to pay tuition to attend McDuffie County schools.
At a recent board meeting, the board was presented with a proposal that would have allowed residents in adjoining counties pay tuition to attend McDuffie County schools.
Even though Superintendent Dr. Ed Grisham recommended the proposal be fully accepted, the board unanimously accepted a revised proposal - one that does not allow nonresidents to pay tuition to attend county schools unless the student is related to a McDuffie County educators.
"I think some of the board members feel like feel like we are here to serve McDuffie County and we shouldn't feel the obligation to serve those outside the county," he said.
During his presentation, Grisham stated that the school system had enough room to accept additional students, and that allowing those extra students would help the county balance racial lines. The county would also benefit from tuition fees that would provide a financial boost to a system that, similar to many throughout the country, is finding itself strapped for cash. McDuffie County had a nonresident tuition program but it was discontinued in 1990.
However, Board Chairman Tommy Phelps felt there were too many unknowns involved.
"Some board members had reservations that it might create some other issues down the road, specifically on adjoining school systems," he said.
Phelps said the board was apprehensive of conflicts that might arise should students from schools in adjoining counties begin defecting to McDuffie County facilities.
Board member Nether Ivery said there were too many question on the economics of the program despite the positive aspects of the proposal.
"Some of the board members, they didn't want a conflict with other counties," he said. "With all the cutbacks the state is talking, we're in a crunch for students, and then we take in their students - the economy is just bad."
According to Grisham, the proposal called for nonresidents to pay somewhere between $800-$1,000 per year to attend McDuffie County schools. All students also would have to be accepted into the system by the board, and their academic and behavioral records would have had to been examined.
Accepting tuition from out-of-county students is not a new idea. Columbia County schools examined the same issue several years ago, but like McDuffie County, decided that there were just too many potential problems.
"We discussed it but ultimately ruled against it," Columbia County School Superintendent Tommy Price said. "We really felt like it was a door we didn't want to open."
He also added that there would be difficulties in ensuring a racial balance remained within the system.
A group that could have been affected by the McDuffie County proposal are private schools, like Briarwood Academy. However, Headmaster John Hammond doesn't think that the proposal would not impact his institution whatsoever.
"I just don't really think that it would have any big effect on us," he said. "It's an alternative to the public school. Cost is not the thing they're (parents) making the decision on."
Although the issue of nonresidents attending McDuffie County schools was brought to the board by concerned parents, Phelps sees no reason for the issue to reappear any time soon.
"As chairman I have no intention of placing it back there short term," he said. "The board has made its intentions clear."
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