West Mifflin Area school director Phil Shar wants his district to sue the state Department of Education, claiming the district is owed hundreds of thousands of dollars for educating Duquesne students over the past five years.
Mr. Shar, who has maintained for the past several months that it is unfair for the state to determine a tuition rate for the Duquesne students attending West Mifflin that is lower than the rate paid to charter schools, asked district solicitor George Gobel to present a legal opinion on the matter.
"Charter schools are public schools, and we are a public school district," Mr. Shar said Thursday. "There should not be different tuition rates."
Mr. Gobel said he believes the argument could have legal merit but wants to do some research and try to get other districts and the Pennsylvania School Boards Association involved in any legal battle.
Mr. Shar said Duquesne pays $12,000 for each regular education student who attends a charter or cyber charter school and $29,000 for each special education student, while West Mifflin receives roughly $10,000 for each Duquesne student it educates.
High school students from Duquesne have attended West Mifflin Area and East Allegheny high schools on a tuition basis, under special state legislation, since Duquesne high school closed in June 2007.
This year, Duquesne's seventh and eighth grade students have also been transferred to those districts.
Mr. Shar said from 2007 to 2012, West Mifflin has educated about 160 Duquesne students annually. He said if his district received the additional $2,000 per student -- based on the charter school tuition -- it would be owed an additional $320,000.
In addition, he said between 10 and 20 percent of students in public schools are special education students.
He said if 10 percent of the Duquesne high school students were special education, the district is owed an additional $272,000, and if 20 percent are special education, the district should get $544,000 based on the charter school formula.
Mr. Shar said the issue is even more important for the future because this year West Mifflin is educating 230 Duquesne students and could possibly get more if Duquesne's K-6 program is dissolved, an action that has been considered by the state.
State education secretary Ron Tomalis on Sept. 26 gave the Duquesne district a preliminary declaration of being in financial recovery -- a move that could allow a chief recovery officer to be named to reorganize the district under a new state law for distressed schools.
However, he has not yet made the declaration final or named a recovery officer.
"We may lose the legal battle, but this could be worth millions and millions, and there's been no legal challenge. I think it's worth a shot," Mr. Shar said.
Mary Niederberger: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1590.