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Non-resident student contracts dispute continues between Pineville and Bell schools

From The Pineville Sun Courier -

The Pineville School Board has voted to bring in additional legal help as it’s ongoing dispute with Bell County over non-resident student contracts continues.

At a special called meeting on Monday the board approved retaining the services of Mike Owsley, of ELPO Law firm, to assist attorney Tim Crawford in making their case to the Kentucky Board of Education.

Last week, the board learned that the hearing officer in the case would be making a recommendation to the state board that favored Bell County. This week Owsley, who is one of the state’s foremost authorities on school district law and policy, will be helping Crawford to put together a list of exceptions to that recommendation to present to the state board.

“I would appreciate anyone who is in favor of being able to decide where they would like to send their kids to school to contact the Kentucky Board of Education and discuss our case with them,” Pineville superintendent Russell Thompson said. “(As of Monday) we had eight days to get those exceptions in and that’s what we’re going to be working on.

“It’s unfortunate that here we are in the middle of a pandemic and we’re trying to get ready for in-person classes and now we have to deal with this law that you have to have a written agreement between the two boards in order for the SEEK money to follow the students. It’s ripping communities apart and I think it needs to be addressed by our legislatures. It needs to be addressed by the Kentucky Board of Ed and what we’re going to do is give them the opportunity to do so and we’ll see how they respond.”

The state board will meet again in October and made their final ruling on the matter.

At issue is the fact that state SEEK money (about $4,000 per student each year), does not go to a school outside of the district the student lives in unless the school boards have a written contract in place. Both Pineville and Bell County have non-resident student agreements in place with surrounding districts but Bell County chose not to approve a 1-for-1 exchange of students with Pineville two years ago. Since that time, Pineville has been appealing to the state board to intervene.

“Right now we do not have a written contract between our two boards. Our board is willing to talk and try to work out a resolution that would be best for our community at this time. I hope the Bell County board would be in consideration of that as well. Hopefully Superintendent Gambrel is willing to work with us, we have a good relationship,” Thompson said.

Last year there were 30 students who live in the Bell County school district that attended Pineville but did not receive SEEK funding. At about $4,000 per students, that’s $120,000 in state funding that stayed in Frankfort instead of going toward  the education for those students.

“Taxpayer money going to the education of our children is a big topic nationally. Right now what this is causing is they are withholding the taxpayers money and not letting it go toward educating their kids based on where they live. That is the bottom line to the whole argument,” Thompson added. “Bell County is not receiving that money, Pineville is not receiving that money it stays in Frankfort. That’s money that could be used to educate Bell County kids and Pineville kids that is not coming into our systems.”

He said students are the ones who are sacrificing the most because they are not getting the funded adequately for their education.

Thompson also said the Pineville Independent will continue to lose more funding each year under Bell County’s proposal and could eventually find itself in a situation where it could not financially survive.

“It seems like the goal of all of this is to choke us out financially. I want everybody to know that right now we’re secure financially — we’re not in the red and we have a solid contingency,” he said.. But in the long-term not having an agreement in place will drastically affect our financial situation.”

Even after the state board’s ruling in October, either side could appeal the dispute in Franklin County Circuit Court and then to the Court of Appeals.

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