As Kim Woodard and Judith Banister recently discovered, moving from Arlington can be expensive.
The couple moved to Fairfax County at the beginning of this month, hoping their two children would be able to finish the last 12 days of school with their friends back at Abingdon Elementary School in Arlington.
They learned too late that Arlington County's policy of charging tuition to nonresident students did not make exceptions for children moving in or out at the end of the year. At the $24.63 daily rate for elementary school students, they would have had to pay $591.12 for first grader Dawn and sixth grader Adrian to finish the year with their classmates.
"You compare that to standard tuition at a university, and it's an arm and a leg," said Woodard. They decided not to pay and let their children finish the year at a new school in Fairfax.
Their case is an example of how a policy designed to help a school system cover the high cost of educating its students can trip up a family caught in an accident of timing. All area jurisdictions have nonresident tuition policies, and most discourage students who live in adjacent counties from enrolling.
Some school systems, including Arlington's, have policies that sharply limit the number of nonresident students because of school crowding and to prevent abuses such as transfers for sports stars.
Arlington School Board members say they had sympathy for the Woodards, but they argued that the school system cannot give away its services. And they said that any tuition-free grace period, as Woodard suggests, would be unfair to someone.
"Where do you draw the line: two weeks, four weeks?" asked Dorothy Stambaugh, a School Board member. "On a personal level, I'd like to accommodate everybody. But we can't do it."
Stambaugh said she would have paid the tuition if her child had been involved. "A couple of hundred dollars -- absent financial hardship -- is not an unreasonable thing to do for your child."
Mary Margaret Whipple, chairman of the Arlington County Board, said last week she would suggest to School Board members that the tuition policy be more flexible for parents who move near the end of the year.
"I understand the need for the policy, but when it comes to affecting a family in this way, I'm very sympathetic," she said. Woodard said he also heard from County Board Member John Milliken, a Democratic candidate for Congress.
Woodard, 43, an energy consultant, said he and his wife, who works for the Census Bureau, could have afforded the tab. But "the real point is that I already paid for it through my taxes," he said. "We're being double-charged."
The couple, who had assumed they would drive their children to Arlington for the last 12 days of school, learned of the tuition policy in a telephone call from a school official on June 2, the first school day after they moved. They declined to pay. The next day, they sent the children to school in Fairfax County.
Any change would come too late to help Adrian and Dawn Woodard this year. Woodard said he is angry that they barely had time to say goodbye to their friends and teachers. Children being children, he said, "they adjusted perfectly" to Fort Hunt Elementary, their new school, where classes ended last week.
Their parents are still upset. "It's public education," Woodard said. "There's no excuse to try to whittle away at the fringes on these fees. My taxes are supposed to cover that."