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Parents may foot bill if students in Pa. get the boot

February 02, 2000|By DON AINES

HARRISBURG, Pa. - The cost of paying for the alternative education of students expelled from Pennsylvania public schools would be shifted from the school districts to parents under a bill sponsored by state Rep. Allan Egolf, R-Franklin-Perry-Cumberland.

House Bill 1576 was reported out of the House Education Committee and discussed on the House floor Tuesday but was tabled. The bill is scheduled for a vote on Monday.

"It's not a great deal of money that's involved," but school districts and taxpayers have to pay for most alternative education programs under the current system, Egolf said Wednesday.

A former middle school teacher, Egolf said he hopes the bill will remove that burden from taxpayers, "show the kids that there are consequences for their actions and get parents involved in their children's education."

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The district would still pay in cases where parents can prove they are unable to pay for alternative education, Egolf said.

The cost of local alternative education programs is approximately $65 to $75 per student per day, according to Lynda Cook, the assistant superintendent for pupil services with the Chambersburg Area School District. Alternative programs available to county schools include Manito Inc. in Antrim Township and Vision Quest and Abraxas in South Mountain, she said.

Manito's alternative high school charges $66 a day, according to Executive Director Robert Whitmore. At that figure, the parents of a student expelled for an entire 180-day school year would be faced with a bill of almost $12,000.

Whitmore said Manito runs 11 programs in four counties. The school in Antrim Township serves all six school districts in Franklin County and had 65 students enrolled Tuesday. He said that included expelled students, students assigned to the program for other reasons and those sent there by a court order.

"Expulsion is anything over 10 days and that requires board action," said Waynesboro Area School District Superintendent Dr. Robert Mesaros. In the 1998-99 school year the district, the second largest in the county, expelled three students.

"It's not rampant by any means," Mesaros said.

The Chambersburg Area School District, the county's largest with about 8,000 students, expelled four students in 1998-99, Cook said. Cook and Mesaros both said expulsion cases typically involve bringing weapons or drugs onto school property.

"Having drugs or being high doesn't necessarily mean an expulsion hearing," according to Cook, who said incidents are evaluated on a case-by-case basis. She said other offenses could result in an expulsion hearing, depending on the severity of the offense.

Cook said all of the state's 502 school districts bear the brunt of paying for most alternative education programs for expelled students. She said the district does not pay if the parents choose to send their child to a religious school.

If the bill is passed by the House and Senate and signed into law, Cook said the financial impact on the district will not be great, but there might be a change in behavior resulting from shifting the financial burden to parents.

"I think it's more the principle behind it that will have an impact," she said.

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