School Choice program to continue next year

By Douglas McCulloch | Mar 12, 2018

Dartmouth High School will accept 30 more students from out of the district next year, as the School Committee approved the continuation of the School Choice program.

The 4-1 vote, with member John Nunes voting against, authorizes the continuation of the program which allows students from outside the district to attend Dartmouth schools.

Currently, the program is limited to Dartmouth High School. This year, a total of 60 students from outside the district attend Dartmouth High School - 21 in the ninth grade, 31 in the 10 grade, seven in the 11 grade, and one 12 grader.

Superintendent Bonny Gifford said she is waiting on additional class enrollment data to come in before deciding what the breakdown will look like in terms of the number of students per grade level the district will add.

Outside school districts pay $5,000 per student to Dartmouth schools. The balance currently sits at $450,000, with additional funds expected with the new students. Recently, the district plans to dip into funding to add a strength and conditioning coach at the high school and will fund renovations to the high school media center.

“That’s a lot of programs that we will be able to fund,” Gifford said. “It’s things we just can’t do otherwise.”

School Committee chair Shannon Jenkins noted since 2008, high school enrollment has fallen by 200 students even with the addition of School Choice students, while staffing has remained the same. She added some classes are larger, but that has more to do with student scheduling choices.

In other School Committee business, work continues to narrow a budget gap of several hundred thousand dollars between what the town can offer and what the School Department is asking for in its $43 million budget.

School Business Administrator James Kiely said he is meeting with town officials on March 14, and has a meeting with the Finance Committee on March 15 to iron out the gap, which he said he is confident he will be able to do without making any changes to the district's budget.

The new budget is light on new additions due to funding. The largest new item is an elementary therapeutic program serving students in grades 2-5 at Quinn Elementary School. It is intended to support students who otherwise would require out-of-district educational services.

The School Committee held its budget hearing at the March 12 meeting, although no one got up to speak. A vote on the full proposal could come as early as the next meeting.

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