AUGUSTA — Regional School Unit 12 is trying to secure spots for its students at Cony High School, foreshadowing what could become a larger issue for RSU 12 if the district loses its only high school to withdrawal.

The RSU 12 school board approved offering a one-year deal to pay Augusta Public Schools a 5.25 percent tuition premium if Augusta agrees not to disinvite any of the 78 students from RSU 12, which can happen in the case of academic or behavior problems.

RSU 12 students attend several high schools other than the district’s own Wiscasset High School, including large numbers of students at Cony, Erskine Academy, Hall-Dale High School and Lincoln Academy. Any of the outside schools can turn away or send home RSU 12 students.

“It’s an ongoing struggle for RSU 12 that while we have school choice, school choice only applies to certain students,” Superintendent Howard Tuttle said. “Some students have a hard time finding a high school to go to.”

Students turned away elsewhere must attend Wiscasset High School, the district’s high school of record, which is up to 40 miles away for students in the northern end of RSU 12. The school district includes Alna, Chelsea, Palermo, Somerville, Westport Island, Whitefield, Windsor and Wiscasset.

Wiscasset will vote Nov. 5 on an agreement to separate from RSU 12. If the town withdraws, effective in July 2014, the district must designate at least one high school of record that is obligated to educate its students.

The offer RSU 12 is making to Augusta doesn’t address that possibility; the aim is to provide security to students and their families for this year.

It also does not address transportation, which was an issue this year for Chelsea students attending Cony. Neither school district wanted to pay to transport the students to school, but they’ve since reached an agreement for the students to ride a Cony bus that had space and stops near the Augusta-Chelsea line.

RSU 12 school board member Joan Morin, who represents Whitefield, said at a school board meeting that RSU 12 does not pay for busing outside the district, but a committee negotiating with Augusta Public Schools about tuition and busing thought it could be worth paying a tuition premium if Augusta would treat the RSU 12 students as their own.

The state determines the tuition that a public high school can charge based on the school’s per-pupil spending for the previous year, topping out at a maximum tuition rate pegged to the state average cost per public high school student.

Tuition rates for 2013-14 will not be set until Dec. 1, but Tuttle said they typically don’t change much from year to year.

Cony’s tuition rate last year was $7,139, nearly $1,000 less than any other public high school with a significant number of RSU 12 students. The state-established maximum tuition, which also applies to private schools such as Erskine and Lincoln, was $8,873.

Tuttle said paying a 5.25 percent premium to Augusta would cost about $30,000 and that the money is available in the district’s budget for tuition because fewer students than expected are attending outside schools.

Although the offer RSU 12 is making for Augusta would cover this year only, RSU 12 school board members discussed its implications for the future.

“It certainly sounds as if this agreement with the city of Augusta and Cony High School would be a strong step in establishing a relationship to find a school of record, should that be necessary,” said Jerry Nault, a board member from Windsor.

Augusta Superintendent James Anastasio said he will take the proposal to an Augusta committee that includes himself, the assistant superintendent, the business manager and a school board member.

The full school board or a subcommittee also could become involved.

Anastasio said Tuesday that he had not seen the proposal and could not say how other officials would receive it.

“If their offer gets us to the point where we can be a good neighbor and accept their kids and provide transportation at no cost to (Augusta), it is my guess that there would be some agreement to that,” he said.

The two districts have put off talking about arrangements beyond this year until after Wiscasset votes next month.

Anastasio said that if RSU 12 needs a new high school of record, Augusta officials would be open to discussing Cony as an option.

Cony High School takes students from several towns in the area, including China, Sidney and Vassalboro. Anastasio said Augusta does not have any agreements with other districts not to disinvite students or that set a higher tuition rate.

Susan McMillan — 621-5645
[email protected]

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