By Kathryn G. Menu
On Friday, the office of New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli released a report critical of the Bridgehampton School’s efforts to collect tuition from non-resident students attending the school. The report finds that for two fiscal years the district charged some students less than the board of education’s approved tuition rates.
The audit, which looked specifically at non-resident students and the tuition they pay to attend the Bridgehampton Union Free School District, looked at the period from July 2009 through the end of October in 2010.
According to the report, 21 non-resident students attended the Bridgehampton School in 2009-10, while 19 attended the district in 2010-2011. That number represents 13 percent of the school’s 150-student population.
While the district could have charged $256,225 over the course of those two school years based on the Bridgehampton Union Free School District Board of Education’s tuition rates for non-resident students, according to the comptroller’s office it only charged $144,575 in tuition for those students. The report further states the district has collected $100,525 of the tuition charged by the school with a remaining $42,800 expected to be collected for the 2010-2011 school year.
A remaining $1,250 is “lost revenue,” according to the report, for one student because the district failed to collect an outstanding balance for the 2009-2019 school year.
According to the comptroller’s office report, one of the reasons for the shortfall in non-resident tuition rates came as a result of the school not properly billing the parents of a non-resident student in need of special education services.
In the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 school years, the school board adopted tuition rates for non-resident students needing special education services at $34,343 and $104,157, respectively. However, according to the report, in 2008 a student who was classified as needing special education was given a tuition contract by then superintendent, Dr. Dianne Youngblood, and the school board that charged the regular non-student tuition rate of $15,000, which the district collected for the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 fiscal years.
In a letter of response to the comptroller’s office, dated May 4, Superintendent Dr. Lois Favre, who took over the position last summer, notes that interviews with school staff indicated the student required less support than the special education tuition warranted.
Dr. Favre said the student in question received “minimal services in terms of special education support — including a special location for testing and some resource room (extra-help) support — which in our small school is available to all students.”
“Since there was no extra special education support needed for the student, it seemed that the general education rate (rather than the egregious special education cost) was more appropriate for this particular student,” stated Dr. Favre in the letter.
Dr. Favre added that the “lost revenue” reported in the comptroller’s report appears to be inaccurate, noting the district did continue to bill that student’s parents in the 2009-2010 school year and unlike the $1,250 reported, the district is now owed just $206.25.
The comptroller’s report also cited the board of education’s decided to waive a pro-rated non-resident tuition charge for a middle school student who completed three-quarters of the 2009-2010 school year before moving out of district. The report was critical, in this instance, of the fact that the district policy only allows tuition to be waived for students who move out of Bridgehampton while in their junior and senior years at the school.
In her response, Dr. Favre noted that the tuition contract signed with that student’s parents allowed for the tuition to be pro-rated for the time the student attended school at Bridgehampton.
“The statement in the policy regarding juniors and seniors refers to incidences when families of students who are juniors and seniors and have to move from Bridgehampton during their junior or senior year have the opportunity to permit their students to complete these two important years without the cost of tuition (in the best interest of the child),” she said.
“We will review our policies to be sure that they say what is meant, and we will assure that we continue to charge and bill for the appropriate rates moving forward,” added Dr. Favre.
On Monday, Dr. Favre said the audit was “conducted professionally and did what it was designed to do — assist us in continuing to assure efficiencies in all of our work in the district.”