WAYNESBURG – The Jefferson-Morgan School District is appealing an arbitration ruling last month requiring it to pay full tuition to Trinity Area for two students who attended that school’s part-time vocational-agricultural program.
The Jefferson-Morgan must pay nearly $25,000 in tuition to Trinity Area after twin girls who resided in the Greene County school district decided to take a vocational-agriculture program offered by the high school in Washington County.
Jefferson-Morgan’s school board voted unanimously Tuesday night to authorize the appeal in Court of Common Pleas in Greene County after a three-person arbitration panel ruled Nov. 19 that the district must pay the full $24,662 invoice billed by Trinity.
The school district had originally sent two checks that totaled $6,165 – a prorated amount for the two vo-ag courses – while the students attended Trinity during the 2017-18 school year. Although the students decided to go to Trinity for its part-time vo-ag program, that school district required them to become full-time students and take all classes at its high school near Washington.
“In the eyes of our school board and administration, the unfairness jumps out at everybody,” Superintendent Joseph Orr said of being required to pay the full amount for a program the district thinks should require only part-time payment.
“It doesn’t make any sense,” Orr said. “It’s not fair, and all of it does a huge injustice to our local taxpayer. Because it’s telling them that they have to foot the bill for a student to play sports in another school district.”
The district’s lawyer, Ernie DeHaas, filed the appeal Wednesday asking for a jury trial in Greene County. Trinity Superintendent Michael Lucas did not return a phone call seeking comment.
The twin girls lived in Jefferson-Morgan School District, but were permitted to play basketball as ninth-graders at Trinity. The students and their family have since relocated into Trinity Area School District.
In a response filed Thursday in Greene County Court, Jefferson-Morgan accuses Trinity of recruiting students for its athletic programs through academic offerings.
A member of the arbitration panel, which included attorneys Joseph Zupancic, John Headley and Lukas Gatten, told a reporter after the Nov. 19 hearing that they ruled the full tuition should be paid because Pennsylvania statutes do not provide for partial payments, similar to how a school district must pay the full price if a student decides to attend a cyberschool.
Orr disputed that assertion because Trinity is not a charter school, nor does it offer a full-time vo-ag program. He said the school district received a “hand-scribbled finding” from the arbitration panel, “which I find really inappropriate to begin with.”
Trinity sued Jefferson-Morgan in August 2018 for lack of the full payment and breach of contract. Orr said the panel never addressed the issue about a breach of contract because the school districts never came to an agreement about the arrangement.
Trinity Area School District officials are accusing counterparts in Jefferson-Morgan of underpaying for students it sent to Trinity's vocational-agricultural program last year.
Trinity has also sued Bentworth School District over a similar disagreement about tuition costs. Orr suggested Trinity’s requirement that vo-ag participants attend as full-time students is motivated by money and athletics.
“The support from the community and the teaching staff has simply been outstanding. Everyone views it just as a way not to do business,” Orr said. “Just imagine if this is the result of what happens to small school districts everywhere. It’s not the way to (fund) public education.”