Grimes sets record straight
Since the Russellville City Schools Board of Education announced its new attendance policy two weeks ago – no more bus routes for out-of-district students, and a tuition fee for all out-of-district students below rising eighth grade – reactions have been mixed.
Reactions have also been well-voiced, with people taking the conversation to their neighbors, to social media, and even to places like www.change.org, where a petition urges, “Help Amend the Russellville City Schools Tuition Policy.”
RCS Superintendent Heath Grimes say while feedback has been overwhelming positive – particularly from in-district students’ families – there have certainly been criticisms leveled at the school system.
What makes those frustrating for the board is knowing that most of the accusations they’re facing are based on misunderstandings or misconceptions about the new policy and its implementation.
Grimes answered a few of the most-widely-spread criticisms currently in the conversation:
Misconception 1: RCS is going to turn down a large number of out-of-district students, regardless, because they have a maximum limit of students they are willing to accept.
“We would love to have all the students,” Grimes said. He said RCS is willing to admit any and every out-of-district student who can meet transportation and tuition requirements – even if that ultimately means overcrowding is still an issue and the system has to begin a building project.
Misconception 2: If my out-of-district student is admitted to RCS this year, the system still might not accept them for future school years, and then they’ll have to switch schools in the middle of their educational careers. They risk not being accepted every year.
Grimes said RCS has no intent to not accept students for future years after admitting them currently. Barring an extreme – that is, severely egregious – discipline or academic problem, students who desire to enroll out-of-district and can provide transportation and pay the tuition will be welcomed back – year after year. “The goal is not to get anybody started and then have to change schools,” Grimes said. “Once they are accepted out of district, unless they do something terrible, they are going to be here.”
Misconception 3: The school system will go up on the tuition rate, making it more unaffordable as years go by.
“There is not going to be an increase,” Grimes said. “You can’t ‘promise’ things like that because you can’t promise the future, but our board wanted to make sure whatever we established was something that could be sustainable and would not be something we would have to change in a couple years … We do not intend to go up; it’s not going to go up; and even if it did, the commitment we have made is that we would honor the current price throughout the rest of a student’s school years,” – that is, a raise in tuition would go into effect for rising kindergarteners but not any current students.
Misconception 4: The school system will probably make exceptions for some students, like student-athletes.
“Our board made it very clear to me that this was a policy they supported but it had to be with no exceptions,” Grimes said. “This is a policy. Policy is there for a reason. There just are no exceptions. We’re very firm in that. We want to make sure that is the case, so it’s fair for everyone.” Not an exception, but written into the policy, is that students of full-time RCS employees who live out of district will be exempt from tuition.
Misconception 5: The school system didn’t even ask input from anyone before approving the policy – not parents, not administrators, not business owners.
“While we didn’t have community meetings, we did seek input from all of those groups,” Grimes said. “Administrators, teachers, business owners – business owners came to us. This has been something people in the city have approached us about, doing things proactively to improve our city.” Grimes said the policy had widespread support long before it was approved. It also was not planned or approved in secret. “This has been talked about for years,” Grimes said. “At the work session, our UniServ director was here. I went through all the policies … Everything was done above-board.” Grimes said he also conferred with the local AEA rep. And even beyond that, people would often bring up planned attendance policy changes when he was out in the community. “It was a terrible-kept ‘secret’ – and that was done on purpose,” Grimes said.
Overall, “We’ve made the decision we all feel is best,” said Grimes, voicing the view of the RCS Board of Education. “We don’t feel bad about that.”
Editor’s note: Do you have thoughts, positive or negative, on the new policy? We’d love to hear them. You can send a letter to the editor, or just send your comments, to email@example.com.