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The Helena school district is not increasing tuition rates for its 600-plus out-of-district high school students, including those who live in East Helena. 

Superintendent Tyler Ream said Tuesday, “I’ve given this a lot of thought, probably too much thought,” before making his recommendation to keep the rate at $175 for the 2019-20 school year. 

Janelle Mickelson, administrator of business services, said the rate has been at or close to $175 for the past 20 years or more.

She said Helena's out-of-district student population has grown because East Helena students attending high school in Helena are considered out-of-district for the first time this school year. 

Ream said he examined many factors related to the issue, including what resources out-of-district students bring with them. He didn’t feel that going higher than $175 was the right call at this time.

During the 2019-20 school year, parents and guardians of East Helena freshmen who want to attend school in Helena will have to pay the $175 tuition for the first time. Sophomores, juniors and seniors will have their tuition paid by the East Helena school district because those grades won’t yet be offered in East Helena.

During each year that follows, the next grade up will need to pay their own tuition to attend Helena High School or Capital High School.

The district revisits these rates each year.

Board chair Sarah Sullivan said she believes it’s important for the public to understand that the district still receives state money from the Office of Public Instruction for out-of-district students.

“The $175 is representative of what a taxpayer would pay on a $100,000 house,” Sullivan said.

Board member Luke Muszkiewicz said he was also comfortable with keeping the rate at $175, based on what the average individual pays in taxes for a median-priced home.

The board unanimously approved the tuition rate.

They decided against setting a tuition rate for elementary students and will instead revisit that rate in the spring, after Ream has more time to study that demographic. Currently there are 300-plus out-of-district elementary students, and there is no fee for those in preschool through eighth grade.

By law, districts in Montana can set a maximum out-of-district tuition rate of $1,114.60 for elementary students, $1,427.20 for grades seven and eight in an accredited middle school program, and $1,427.20 for grades nine through 12. Additionally, districts can set a special tuition rate for students with special needs who require a higher-than-average cost for care. 

Mickelson said the tuition rate is the same regardless of what time during the school year the out-of-district student joins. She said that paid tuition is only valid until the end of the school year.

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