Upper Township could net $1M in tuition through School Choice

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PETERSBURG – School officials estimate the Upper Township school district could generate an additional $1 million in tuition payments if it entered the state School Choice program.


Members of the Upper Township Board of Education discussed the merits of applying to the School Choice program at a Monday, Dec. 17 finance committee meeting preceding the regularly scheduled monthly board meeting.

Superintendent Vincent Palmieri estimated the program could net $1 million for the district, without having to add an additional teacher, if the district opened up 140 seats in kindergarten through eighth grade. 

The school board must make a decision whether to pursue the program with the New Jersey Department of Education by April, 2013 to become part of the program for the 2014-15 school year. 

Two years ago, the Ocean City school district became a “Choice School.” By allowing students from outside the district to apply for a limited number of seats in each grade, the district has filled empty seats and, through tuition payments from the NJDE, helped fill the district’s coffers, thus avoiding cuts to popular programs. 

School districts are permitted to set how many seats will be available in each grade. Ocean City opened the program to high school students the first year, and then opened it up on a very limited basis to primary and elementary school students this year. 

Ocean City was careful to limit seats in the lower grades in particular so as not to require hiring any new teachers.

Palmieri and school business administrator Laurie Ryan explained that the program could benefit the Upper Township school district too. Tuition payments are based on a formula using state aid, so tuition could change from one year to the next. 

If Upper Township were a Choice School this year, Ryan said the district would receive $10,065 per student, about 82 to 88 percent of Upper Township’s cost per pupil. 

School board members debated how Corbin City students would be treated. They currently pay a higher tuition to attend Upper Township schools because the tuition is based on the per pupil cost. If they were School Choice students, they would pay less, which is the current situation with Upper Township students attending Ocean City High School. The state pays less per pupil for other students to attend OCHS than Upper Township does. 

School board members shared other concerns about the program, including class size.

Palmieri said School Choice students would be carefully added and teachers could be reassigned accordingly. He said enrollment has steadily decreased over the past several years.

The middle school had 700 students 10 years ago today but there are only 500 students now, he said.

Ryan said the district has received numerous calls inquiring about the program. 

This year, several Upper Township students applied to become School Choice students in the Ocean City district and were accepted. School board members asked board solicitor Rebecca Winkelstein if these students could remain School Choice students in high school as the cost would be much lower.

New guidelines from the state mandate that the Upper Township students must be part of the send-receive relationship in high school, she said. If they applied to become a School Choice student in a different high school, that would be permitted, said Winkelstein.


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