If approved, it would be the second hike in as many years.
Board of Education chairman Corky Jewell earlier this week appointed board members Billy N. Ellis and Jim Powell to a committee to study the matter. “I would like the committee to get back with me next month,” the chairman said.
Chickamauga School Superintendent Melody Stansell said state cuts in 2005 are expected to total $338,427 for the school system.
“I had no idea it would be this much,” Stansell said about the projected cuts. “They (school board members) are going to look at the possibility of a tuition increase due to the state funding cuts.”
Stansell said the school system will have to lose programs or personnel.
“Most of our money is allocated for personnel salary, so that is worrisome,” she said. “We have already done away with some programs, and some teachers retired.”
Stansell said the tuition increase this year helped.
The school board raised tuition this school year to $250 at all three schools. Last year, commuters paid $175 to attend Chickamauga Elementary, $165 to attend Gordon Lee Middle, and $135 to attend Gordon Lee High.
The increase to $250 was prompted by state cuts, which inevitably forced the city of Chickamauga to raise its property tax rate from 7.25 mills to 10.25 mills in the fall of 2003.
One program that has already been eliminated is a joint studies class with integrated learning, in which a group of students took a combined English-history class, with two teachers.
“Now students take the classes separately,” she said. “We could not afford to put two teachers with one class, even though it was an excellent class.”
Stansell said she wants the least effect on the students’ education.
“We will put as many students as possible in each class and it will be a hard year for us,” she said. “We have the responsibility to provide a quality education, and we will.”
Stansell predicted that the schools, due to state cuts, will not offer as much variety in classes.
Possible tuition increase
School board member Billy Ellis said raising tuition for out-of-district students is a step toward fixing the budget shortage.
“It is to try and close that gap, to get relief from the $300,000-figure cut,” Ellis said. “But we won’t know that that is the exact cut until the Legislature decides for sure (later this spring). There is no way to raise tuition to completely offset it. We will have to find other things to cut back on.”
According to Ellis, the tuition increase to $250 this year raised $31,000 more for the school system.
Ellis said that in his 24 years on the school board, he has never been faced with anything like this.
“It will be a small tuition increase,” Ellis predicted about the next possible hike. “Whatever we come up with, it might get shot down or inflated (by fellow board members). We may go back again next year and raise it a little again.”
Ellis said he does not want to discourage out-of-district students from attending Chickamauga City Schools, but the city is behind on tuition fees.
Last school year, out-of-district students comprised 55 percent, or 753, of Chickamauga schools’ student enrollment of 1,358.
According to Stansell, the state paid in 2002-03 about $4,610 per student, while property owners footed $674 of the bill for each student.
The significant number of commuters is causing the school board to look into the matter to see how commuters can help with the budget shortfall.
According to City Manager John Culpepper, the owner of a $100,000 home in Chickamauga now pays $328 in property taxes, which go to the school system.
Ellis plans to send letters to parents when the tuition increase is set. He said the board could decide next month, but since the Legislature is still convening and state cuts are up in the air, the board might wait until May to set the tuition hike based on cuts.
“Rumors have been flying around that tuition would be $900 to $1,000 and that is not true,” he said. “The rumors came from the elementary school. We will try to keep the tuition as low as possible.