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Special permission:Why not levy a fee?

April 24, 2002

If you live in a certain school district in Washington County, your children attend classes there, right? Not if they have special permission to go elsewhere, a policy the school system may alter later this month. But if the board can't bear to do that, it should at least make sure schools aren't hurt financially by this policy.

At present there are about 1,200 students attending outside their school districts under the special-permission system. Now classes at some schools are becoming crowded, leading to a proposal to make it tougher to qualify.

At present, a principal can say "no" to special permission if classes in the child's grade level reach 90 percent of the state's capacity guideline of 25 students per class. The new rule would allow principals to reject the application if there were 21 students in each class.

According to School Board member Doris Nipps, the proposal would not apply to those who seek special permission to keep students who've been redistricted from leaving their home schools. It would try to make sure that parents who apply actually do qualify in one way or another.

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In the past School Board members have told The Herald-Mail privately that there was not a great deal of scrutiny of the reasons parents gave for seeking special permission. Now growing enrollments make it impossible to wink at these things.

Will the board really make parents unhappy in this way? We'll wait and see. Given the recent track record, we're not sure they will, which is why they need an alternative.

What would happen if there was a fee attached to special permission in those cases where the schools were overcrowded by state standards? It wouldn't pay for all of the costs, but the system would have the option of raising it, if necessary, to add faculty.

The ultimate answer, of course, is making each school attractive enough to those who live in the surrounding district that they'd find ways to keep their children there, instead of looking for an escape route.

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