Dalton Public Schools will raise tuition for the 2018-19 school year for out-of-district students to basically match, school officials say, an expected tax increase on property owners from approval of general obligation bonds to help the school system build a sixth- and seventh-grade school.

After lowering the proposed tuition increase of $150 for out-of-district students whose parents are not employed by the school system to $50, board members voted unanimously during Monday night’s meeting to raise tuition rates for the new school year for most out-of-district students.

“I thought it was a very equitable and fair compromise,” board Chairman Rick Fromm said. “Property owners will see an increase in their tax bills because of the new bonds, and out-of-district students will help shoulder the burden of those costs. I think that reflects the increase for homeowners.”

The system will have to pay back $46.89 million in borrowed funds for the land and construction of the system's tenth school. With the approval of the bond package, school officials have said a millage increase of at least .4 mills will be added for the 2018-19 budget. The median property in Dalton is roughly appraised at $125,000, according to Interim Superintendent Don Amonett, which would amount to a property tax increase of around $50. According to Chief Financial Officer Theresa Perry, the tuition increase roughly matches the median tax increase that property owners will see as a result of the bonds.

Voters approved the passage of the issuing of the general obligation bonds to help the school system build the sixth- and seventh-grade school on property across the U.S. 41 North bypass from Dalton Middle School to help ease overcrowding at both the middle school and at Dalton High. Also at Monday night’s meeting, board members approved concept plans for that 6/7 school, which will include three wings of classrooms and will be two stories.

There will be no change in the tuition rates for the children of system employees who live outside the district or for students who live out of state and do not have a parent employed by the system. The current tuition for in-state students of system employees is $550, and the out-of-state tuition rate for non-employee children is $5,000. Tuition for out-of-state students who are the children of system employees will rise to $1,000. Tuition for in-state students who are not children of employees will rise to $1,550. Of the nearly 8,000 students throughout the system, 419 are from outside of the city limits.

The original proposal brought to the board called for an increase of $150 per year for out-of-state students of employees and in-state students of non-employees. But board members Tulley Johnson and Pablo Perez said they worried about the financial burden associated with that hike.

“We don’t want to discourage non-residents from sending their kids here,” Johnson said during the board's work session. “I just want to know if we could go with half. I am trying to compromise.”

Board members Matt Evans and Palmer Griffin said there had to be a balance between what city property owners are being asked to pay and what is reflected in tuition rates.

“I like Palmer’s thought that city residents are receiving an increase due to the GO (general obligation) bond, and so I think there is some fairness to ask out-of-district students to pay a comparable amount,” Evans said.

But he and other board members also pushed Amonett to form a committee to fully study the tuition situation and see if there are ways of helping economically disadvantaged students apply to the system from out of district.

Fromm noted in the discussion that the system gets more than $2 million in funding from the state for out-of-district students and he wants to see the practice of welcoming out-of-district students into the system continue.

“I think that has been a rich history of Dalton Public Schools,” Fromm said. “I don’t want to discourage it because it is a positive impact we get not only monetarily, but also socioeconomically. We want continued buy-in and continued integration.”

The two-story concept for the new school has three wings of classroom space, a central office, media center, auditorium, cafeteria and gymnasium space. The school was designed by James W. Buckley and Associates Inc. of Rome and is based on designs similar to Richmond Hill Middle School south of Savannah. The design will have the same stone facade design as the Richmond Hill school. The site plan has contingencies for another facility to be built on the land as well as athletic fields and parking.

For more visual concepts and pictures of the design, visit this story at www.dailycitizen.news.

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