Union School Board Confronts Cyber School Costs: ‘They’re Killing Us All’
Board President Brenda Brinker described two meetings that she and other local school administrators had with Representative Donna Oberlander (R-Clarion/Armstrong/Forest) and State Senator Scott Hutchinson (R-21).
“The big topic was cyber school expenses and that we needed something done,” Brinker told exploreClarion.com. “Something needs to be done to reduce the costs.”
According to Brinker, Oberlander told the group she had co-sponsored and voted for legislation to ease the district’s burden of paying for cyber school, but “there is nothing out right now on it.”
During the meeting with Hutchinson, Brinker said she found him to be unresponsive to the local districts’ complaints.
“The same things were brought up,” stated Brinker. “His response was tepid. He said he really didn’t have any ideas on how to cap it. He said he just thought we need to get behind people who didn’t want to completely eliminate cyber-charter schools but try to make it more manageable.”
One of Brinker’s largest concerns is the way cyber schools use the tuition money school districts pay them.
She observed cyber schools can use tuition money to donate to lobby politicians by donating to political campaigns and political action committees.
“I did mention in both meetings,” Brinker remarked, “they, the cyber-charter schools can take this money that we’re paying for tuition for these students and can use it to contribute to PACs and lobbying in Harrisburg. We can’t do that. We’re struggling to pay utilities, and they’re using that money to lobby.”
Brinker sounded frustrated at the response from Hutchinson, and said, “I gave that man data, at least 12 years ago, on cyber-charter. He did nothing with it. Now, he acts like he’s not aware and has no idea.
“It was evident this wasn’t what he wanted to hear from us.”
Union Superintendent Dr. John Kimmel stated the district currently has 56 students enrolled in cyber-schools, which means the district is paying around $529,000.00 in tuition to cyber schools.
“In looking at the total overall figures, we’re still under $600,000.00, which was actually our cost last year,” said Kimmel. “Although the projections could have been significantly worse than what they were last year, we’re still under that number currently. Keep in mind, the $600,000.00 figure was at the end of the year.”
Responding to a query by exploreClarion.com regarding the last board meeting on September 16, at which many parents spoke out against the Pennsylvania mask mandate in K-12 schools and threatened to put their kids in cyber school, Kimmel said, “We really weren’t sure where that was going to go.”
He added: “Being conservative, we thought we had the opportunity for more students to go to cyber. We’re pleasantly surprised we didn’t have that many go.”
Kimmel mentioned tuition costs to the district for cyber school have been reduced as the majority of cyber school students are attending the Titusville Rockets program, whose tuition is lower than other cyber school programs.
“Most families that were looking at the cyber option for their children went that direction because it’s a program that keeps their students here in our district,” he said. “They can participate in our extracurricular programs and helps them continue the feel of being a student here. It does produce a major costs savings, as well.”
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