School districts ask new education chief to reverse magnet school tuition decision

A coalition of school districts is asking the new education commissioner to reverse the directives made by his two predecessors requiring school districts to pay the tuition for local students to attend part-time or pre-kindergarten regional magnet school programs.

“By paying for matters they are not required to finance, the [school districts] will have less resources to expend on the education of their own students,” the petition to Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor states. “The dispute relates to the proper roles of [funding education] and the ability of the state to shift financial responsibility for educational expenses to local and regional school districts.”

Both education leaders before Pryor — Mark McQuillan and George Coleman — issued two separate memos putting the responsibility for paying tuition for these students on the towns and their school boards.

Statewide there are almost 1,000 students attending part-time programs and hundreds in preschool programs in magnet schools.

Unsettled by the financial burden of this requirement, a group of six school districts filed a lawsuit in Superior Court earlier this year asking for relief. But while waiting for the courts to make a ruling, a new education commissioner was named, leading the districts to ask him to reverse this requirement.

The State Department of Education has until Dec. 6 to respond to the petition. They could decline to make a ruling and allow the court to sort it out, reverse the previous decision requiring districts pay tuition or hold a hearing which would give them an additional 180 days to make a decision.

Mark J. Sommaruga, the lawyer for the school districts, said he does not plan to withdraw the lawsuit while they wait for the State Department of Education’s ruling, unless told they have to for the petition to be considered.