Jefferson-Morgan Superintendent Joseph Orr said Trinity Area School District’s refusal to work on a collaboration to offer his district’s students vocational-agriculture programming is indicative of larger problems.
Those issues are outlined in a response Jefferson-Morgan filed Thursday in Greene County Court in which it accuses Trinity of recruiting students for its athletic programs through academic offerings.
Trinity accused Jefferson-Morgan of underpaying for students who attended Trinity for its vo-ag program, asking for roughly $18,500 in tuition for two students during the 2017-18 school year, according to the lawsuit filed in Greene County earlier this month. But Jefferson-Morgan contends the proper procedures for the type of enrollment for the two students in question were not followed and the district never agreed to pay the full tuition amount.
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.
After the 2017-18 school year ended, Trinity invoiced Jefferson-Morgan for $24,662, or $12,331 per student, but Jefferson Morgan paid a total of $6,166 – or about $3,083 a student, the lawsuit states. Trinity’s lawsuit contains claims of breach of contract and breach of implied contract.
In an earlier interview with the Observer-Reporter, Orr said there was never a contract, implied or otherwise. Rather, district officials were always clear that they were not interested in sending Jefferson-Morgan students to Trinity full time when the vo-ag program they were hoping to be involved in was only two class periods. He questioned why it was necessary for these students to take core classes offered at their home school in an outside district.
“It doesn’t make sense,” Orr said. “We’re (Jefferson-Morgan) doing a solid job.”
Orr said he wanted to work out a partnership between the two districts, but Trinity officials were not interested.
Trinity originally filed the lawsuit in Washington County in early August, but withdrew it a month later to file it in Greene County. A message to Trinity Superintendent Michael Lucas was not immediately returned Monday.
Jefferson-Morgan works with other nearby districts to offer programs, such as Albert Gallatin for JROTC and West Greene for vo-ag, sending students only for the necessary program periods. The horticultural program Trinity offers is different from West Greene’s vo-ag program.
Jefferson-Morgan received a letter from Trinity administration in August 2017 that said, in effect, if the district was not in favor of sending students full time, to let the district know.
Orr said it’s a matter of fairness, and the appearance is that these programs may be used for attracting athletes, an issue raised in Jefferson-Morgan’s legal filing.
“For a number of years prior to the action taken by (Trinity’s) Board in July 2017, (Trinity) had engaged in a practice of recruiting student-athletes from other districts under the premise that it could offer educational/career placement courses which the home districts of such student-athletes did not offer. If the students in question had only taken the two courses in the Program at Trinity Area, but their other courses at Jefferson-Morgan during the 2017-2018 school year, they would have only been eligible to participate in athletics at Jefferson-Morgan,” Jefferson-Morgan wrote in its response to the lawsuit. “That (Trinity) would admit the students in question only as ‘full-time transfer students’ was the result and in furtherance of its practice of recruiting student-athletes from other districts and attempting to increase its revenue at the expense of other school districts.”
“To me, that creates an environment that is ripe for not the right thing,” Orr said.
Orr explained how the process typically works when a student is interested in a program their home district does not offer.
Students request their home district conduct an educational/career placement meeting. Orr said no such request came from the two students or their parents. A similar meeting should be conducted with representatives from the district the student is interested in, as well as a representative from the student’s home district.
No such meeting took place, Jefferson-Morgan states in its response. In fact, the district was not notified of these plans prior to July 2017.
“School districts have a responsibility to cooperate with one another in order to provide special programming courses for students,” the district writes in the legal filing, citing the state Department of Education’s public school code.
The district alleges that the two students “participated in (Trinity’s) open gym basketball sessions conducted by its basketball coaches for several months prior to the action taken by (Trinity’s) Board in July 2017.”
Trinity’s school board voted unanimously to admit the two students in question on July 12, 2017, according to the district’s minutes from the special meeting. After that move, the parents of the students requested a meeting with Jefferson-Morgan personnel. The legal filing states that the district checked with the state Department of Education prior to that meeting that Jefferson-Morgan was not required to send students for the full school day, but only for the courses not offered at J-M.
Trinity informed Jefferson-Morgan in early August 2017 that the two students had been approved as “full-time transfer students.” Jefferson-Morgan replied two days later that they were not in agreement. Jefferson-Morgan claims there is no requirement for the district to pay full-time tuition to Trinity, and that the two students participated in at least one sport at Trinity during the 2017-18 school year.
Orr added that other districts have similar concerns. His fear is that students might forgo what could be in their best interest academically for sports. At the end of the day, Orr said he’s just trying to be a good steward of taxpayer dollars. He doesn’t feel fighting this issue in court is the best use of district funds.