EDITOR’S NOTE: This story is part of a publishing partnership between the Richmond Register and Eastern Progress.
Parents of 710 students attending the Model Laboratory School received a letter Tuesday night telling them school officials learned, as of last Friday, of a challenge presented to the school’s budgetary structure after a parent complained to the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) about special education services at the school, which prompted KDE to review their current budget structure.
Since 1986, the lab school, which is the last remaining one of its kind in Kentucky, has operated in partnership with Madison County Public Schools and Eastern Kentucky University — additionally charging tuition to parents’ of students.
In the letter sent to parents, John Williamson, the school’s superintendent, explains funding from each entity. For the county, Model receives contracted funding based on student attendance calculations, generating $2.3 million for this year.
The lab school says they utilize the $2.8 million generated in tuition and fees to “cover the remaining gap of per pupil costs for instruction, facilities, programming and administrative support, etc,” the letter reads.
Currently, the average tuition and fees rate for students to attend Model is around $3,850 for the year.
In the words of Williamson, “KDE has now ruled or found that Model as a school can not charge tuition to its parents if we receive state education funding through the county, or, you can receive education dollars from Madison County and not charge tuition.”
Simply put, the semi-public, semi-private school has to choose one, at a cost to a third of their funding for operations.
“Either way, A or B, this would take away a third of our budget and it would be impossible for any school district to exist or operate without those funds,” he said.
In the letter, it describes neither option as “financially feasible,” and that without the state support and funding through the county, “Model would be forced to consider either a crippling decrease in funding to support our existing enrollment or significant increase in tuition costs.”
So instead, they have opted for a third option, to “seek legislative avenues in the upcoming session that clearly define ongoing and permanent funding solution.”
Already, the letter states, State Rep. Deanna Frazier stated she would be a primary bill sponsor to deliver a permanent solution, and additionally earned the support of Wayne Lewis, the Kentucky commissioner of education.
“I would say that is our primary pass forward is to work collaboratively with Madison County, KDE and the legislature for the long term,” Williamson told The Register. “Because (Model) serves the university largely and some Madison County students, we hope to continue to provide for more students and teachers to get further professional development across the state...
“This puts us in this situation where we need to look for a legislative fix to look at what we can do with to come up with a long term solution that is allowable by state statute.”
Model Lab School has 58 faculty members, which are employees of the university, and 27 staff members (assistants, secretaries, student support employees, etc.).
Hypothetically, Williamson said, if the school were to have to make cuts to funding, he has no doubt in his mind that tenured faculty would be able to find positions at other area schools, “for the need throughout the state for teachers and the high quality teachers” that Model produces.
“We have excellent teachers at Model,” he said.
The worst case scenario, according to Williamson, would be no state support for the work the school does, and if that is the case, “we would have to find alternative options” such as doubling tuition and parents would pay more.
“I don't believe that the university would be able to continue their support with lack of funding throughout the state (for higher education),” he said. “We are very hopeful and optimistic and our partners are as well in support of the school.”
Kristi Middleton, EKU’s external affairs officer, stated that the university is committed to continuing education for EKU and Model school, but that, if asked today to offer additional funding, “we would be hard pressed to find that money within the university’s budget.”
In a statement from Madison County Schools, a spokesperson said, “Superintendent (David) Gilliam intends to comply with any request or mandate from the Office of the Commissioner. The district is very much supportive of the partnership we have with Model Lab and we are looking forward to continuing the relationship we have had for the past 30 years.”
A discussion will be held at Model Lab School at 6:45 to 7:45 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 26 in the Model Auditorium, which all are invited to attend.
Reach Taylor Six at 624-6623 or follow her on Twitter at 624-6623 or follow her on Twitter at @TaylorSixRR.
This story originally appeared in the Richmond Register.