‘A local decision’
During the Nov. 15 work session, Superintendent Dr. Tom Sisk informed the board that allowing private-school students to attend the Career Center “is a local decision,” after consulting with Dr. Philip Cleveland, director of the Office of Career Technical Education/Workforce Development for the Alabama Department of Education. Sisk cited a memo from former state Superintendent Dr. Ed Richardson that said the county is “not obligated to provide training of that nature to private school students.”
Sisk did not make a public formal recommendation during the board meeting. Board members had a more detailed agenda with addendums not made public prior or during the meeting, including a memo from Sisk.
School officials said the public agenda and board agenda differ due to sensitive information that might not be approved during the meeting. An updated agenda, without the addendums and unapproved items, is made public either immediately after a regular board meeting or the day after the meeting.
The memo from Sisk advised the school board to refund tuition paid by the two ABS students, and allow them to finish their credits at the Career Center without paying tuition. It also recommended that ABS students who were enrolled previously at the Career Center to be allowed to finish their credits without paying tuition.
During the work session, Sisk said not “to split hairs over the dollar amount” and that he believed the school system “should allow the (ABS students) that we already had to be grandfathered in.”
“We heard Florence City Schools allowed students from private schools to attend its technical center, but that’s not the case,” Sisk added. “All the surrounding school systems do not allow (private-school students), as a general rule, to attend their technical centers.”
Career Center tuition
Prior to this fall, ABS students had been allowed to attend the Career Center without paying tuition, according to multiple sources. County students are not charged tuition, and Athens City Schools pays for its students to attend.
The center, which opened in 1971, currently has an enrollment of 513, including students from the city and county school systems and two ABS students.
According to the Limestone County Schools Central Office, the two ABS students have paid $975 to date for the current school year. The students were charged $75 a week each beginning in mid-October and tuition payments were processed through the Central Office, according to Career Center Director Mickey Glass.
During the 2011-12 school year, Athens City Schools paid $2,343.35 for 124 students to attend the Career Center. Tuition is charged to cover the operational costs of the center, including maintenance, salaries and utilities, Glass said.
McGill said if the county school system charges Athens students to attend the Career Center, then ABS students should also be charged. Tuition for Athens students is paid by the city school system, while ABS students paid their tuition on an individual basis.
“I don’t agree that Athens City (Schools) should have to pay and ABS doesn’t,” McGill said. “We should do something fair.”