FARMINGTON — The Mt. Blue School District is considering a program to attract international students with the aim of using their tuition dollars to bring back a world languages program at the elementary level.

The proposal calls for two years and $35,000 to get the program started, but Superintendent Tom Ward said if the exchange program is successful it will pay for itself with money left over after the first year international students are enrolled.

“The ultimate goal, once we get rolling, would be to bring in enough money to help pay for expanding world language into the elementary schools,” Ward said.

The school board heard the initial proposal Tuesday, and members said they would research and revisit the matter at the March 25 meeting. The school district consists of Chesterville, Farmington, Industry, New Sharon, New Vineyard, Starks, Temple, Vienna, Weld and Wilton.

If approved, the program would use as models programs at other Maine schools, such as Orono High School and Camden Hills Regional High School. The proposal calls for the school to focus recruitment on Chinese students, who have been attending high school in the United States at dramatically increasing rates.

Public high schools from Maine to California have made national news for trying to plug budget gaps with tuition from Chinese students. Around 24,000 high-school-age Chinese students were studying in the United States in the 2010-11 school year, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

World languages were deleted from the elementary level at Mt. Blue several years ago because of budget cuts. Lisa Dalrymple, district coordinator for world languages, said school officials had hoped to bring the program back by 2014; but there’s still not enough money in the school budget, so she proposed to Ward the idea of funding the program through international exchange students. Dalrymple thinks her plan is the most cost-effective way to bring the program back.

“You’ve got to spend money to make money,” she said.

Board members were open to the idea, Ward said, but they wanted to have more information and time to research the proposal.

Dalrymple said tuition under the proposal would cost about $15,000 for the first year of attendance, $5,500 for room and board and $5,000 as an administration fee for the costs of running the program, bringing the total cost of one year in the program to nearly $26,000.

She said if the school took in three students the first year, the district would make $38,400 after expenses. Ward and Dalrymple both said the proposal has the possibility for a strong return on investment; the program’s profit would pay for the first three years’ expenses, and in later years they anticipate revenue would grow.

The school district has had exchange students before, but the students were participating in other programs not run by the school.

“I thought, we have the gorgeous, beautiful school, great teachers, great programs; and for years our community has been hosting exchange students,” Dalrymple said. “Why don’t we consider doing this ourself?”

The program’s expenses in the first year would be a stipend for Dalrymple’s time setting up the program, lawyer fees, site visits and other costs such as travel that would come with the process, Ward said. After the program was approved, the school then would spend the next year recruiting.

Dalrymple has hosted 10 exchange students over the years and said a previous Chinese student she hosted told her how much she loved the area and being able to see the stars.

“What we could offer would be blue skies, clean air and a safe environment,” she said. “I think that is really something we could market.”

Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252 [email protected]