District claims vo-tech school owes it nearly $1.6M for tuition overpayments – nj.com

A city school board has gone to court to recoup nearly $1.6 million it believes a county vo-tech school owes for tuition overpayments
Vineland’s school board has filed petitions with the state commissioner of education claiming the Cumberland County Vocational School District Board of Education overcharged for tuition for Vineland students who attended Cumberland County Technical Education Center.
About 475 Vineland students are currently enrolled at CCTEC.
The claims cover school years 2012-2013 through 2019-2020.
Vineland argues that CCTEC violated state statute concerning how much a vo-tech can charge a sending district.
The vo-tech contends it has followed all state guidelines regarding tuition and terms of contracts signed between the districts.
Representatives for both entities declined to comment on the ongoing litigation, but case filings obtained by NJ Advance Media in response to an Open Public Records Act request lay out the case, which began in May 2020 when Vineland schools hired an independent auditor to review CCTEC tuition charges.
The review of state Department of Education records covered 2012 through 2019 and, from that, the district concluded that it paid excess tuition of $1.15 million during those years.
After meetings between the schools couldn’t resolve the issue, Vineland filed a petition in December of last year seeking recovery of that dollar figure.
In March, Vineland BOE filed a second petition pertaining to the 2019-2020 school year, alleging that CCTEC owed Vineland an additional $441,106.20 for excess tuition payments in that year. Instead of reimbursing Vineland or crediting that sum toward the 2021-2022 year, CCTEC calculated a proposed credit of only $98,634.41, according to this petition.
In its filings, Vineland outlined the state statute that governs how vocational schools calculate tuition. The maximum rate a vo-tech can charge a sending district involves a multi-year process. In the first year, a district is allowed to charge a “tentative rate,” and the state Department of Education audits expenditures and revenues of the vo-tech the next year and then issues a “certified tuition rate” — which is deemed the maximum rate a district can charge — for year one, according to the filing. The vo-tech must then adjust any difference between the tentative and certified rates and charge or reimburse the sending district for any difference.
In its responses, CCTEC says the dispute apparently involves Vineland’s belief that CCTEC improperly charged for use of resource rooms for special education students. Under state guidelines, CCTEC is permitted to charge over the maximum tuition rate determined by the state for student use of these rooms, its attorney argued.
CCTEC also claims that, under contract agreements between the districts, when an under- or overpayment is determined, only 50 percent of the sum is payable.
In addition, CCTEC filed a motion for dismissal of the first petition, arguing that Vineland had missed a 90-day window to file its claim. A judge with the Office of Administrative Law denied that motion in October, finding that Vineland acted within the statutory timeframe based on the date of the final meeting between the districts that “solidified the dispute between the parties.”
The attorneys for both districts are scheduled to return to court Dec. 7 for a status conference on the case.
An official with the Office of Administrative Law confirmed this week that no other CCTEC sending districts appear to have filed similar petitions regarding tuition payments.
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Matt Gray may be reached at [email protected].
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