Suburban towns may soon face tuition charges for every new student they send to the Greater Hartford Classical Magnet School, a plan that could eventually expand to other Hartford magnet schools.
The $2,500-per-student tuition charge is intended to help fill a shortfall between the school's roughly $10,000 per-student cost and the $6,730 in state funding the school will receive for each suburban student next year, Principal Tim Sullivan said. In the past, Hartford funds covered the difference, but a change in the city schools' budgeting method means city money no longer fills the gap for suburban children.
"We think that in order to offer the same quality programming, we need to equalize the funding," Sullivan said.
School officials are still negotiating the plan with the state, but have sent notices to suburban districts saying they intend to charge tuition in the fall.
The tuition would only apply to new students at Classical; there would be no additional charge for children who currently attend the grade 6-12 school. Ninety-four students from suburban towns are expected to begin attending Classical next year, bringing the school's suburban enrollment to 340 students from 22 towns.
Classical Magnet's governance council felt it was in a strong position to begin charging tuition, Sullivan said, noting that the school has generated high demand and has a 400-student waiting list.
Sullivan described the tuition as a way to get suburban districts to pay their fair share. Towns receive state funding for students who attend magnet schools in Hartford, even though Hartford has traditionally paid the students' transportation costs and made up the difference between state funding and the cost of educating the student, he said.
"There's an impression on the part of many elected officials in Hartford that they've been subsidizing the education of suburban children through funding public schools and the surrounding towns have not paid their fair share," Sullivan said.
But suburban school officials say sending students to out-of-district magnet schools doesn't save them much money since many school costs — like teacher salaries or heating bills — don't fall if enrollment drops by a few students per grade.
Windsor Superintendent of Schools Elizabeth Feser said paying tuition to a Hartford magnet school would pose a significant burden. "That is of tremendous concern for us in Windsor," she said.
Feser said her district had not been notified by the state that it would have to pay tuition for Classical, and did not plan to do so.
District-run magnet schools can legally charge tuition to other districts that send students, according to the state Department of Education, but Classical would be the first Hartford-run magnet school to do so. Other Hartford magnet schools could adopt similar tuition plans in the future if necessary, Hartford officials said.
If they did, districts would likely have little choice but to pay if their students wanted to attend. A law passed last year allows students to attend magnet schools, space allowing, whether their home district has an arrangement with the magnet school or not.
Granby school board Chairman J. Callender Heminway said he could sympathize with the Hartford school's situation, since state funding for magnet schools does not cover the schools' full operating costs.
But he's not pleased with the school's solution.
"From our perspective, I think it would have a terrible chilling effect upon the willingness of suburban districts to participate in the magnet program with [host districts]," he said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at