Compass still accepts publicly-funded students

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WESTMINSTER — Despite rumors to the contrary, Compass School is still eligible for state funds to educate local school children.

Rick Gordon, head of school and a member of the Westminster School Board, said he has heard from at least two families concerned that a paperwork snafu earlier this year meant Compass School's independent status was in peril.

"They've heard that we can't take publicly funded kids," Gordon said.

Compass School lost its tax-exempt status for two weeks after failing to file its Form 990 with the IRS. The 990 must be filed every two years and is a declaration of an organization's tax-exempt status. Gordon said the failure to file the 990 was a paperwork mistake that won't happen again. Immediately upon learning of the failure to file, the 990 was submitted and Compass School regained its tax-exempt status retroactively, meaning in the eyes of the IRS, the two weeks it was out of compliance didn't technically happen.

But the Vermont Board of Education took notice and asked for and received five years of financial documentation from Compass School to determine its viability.

"Our budget is fine and has always been fine," Gordon said. "We always run a surplus."

Compass School has an annual budget of $1 million, half of which comes from the state in the form of tuition support.

According to the Vermont Agency of Education's website, "Vermont school districts that do not operate schools for some or all of the grades K through 12, nor belong to union school districts for those grades are required to pay tuition to other public or approved independent schools for students in the grades indicated."

Depending on what town those children come from, the tuition rate for fiscal year 2019 was approximately $15,000.

Parents who live in towns that don't allow them to transfer their tuition to Compass are responsible for paying the tuition. But Gordon said most of those students who attend Compass receive some sort of financial aid, which is funded through grants and donations.

The Board of Education has indicated it plans to make a visit to Westminster, but Gordon said it hasn't yet set a date.

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"We have been totally transparent," said Gordon. "We made a mistake and we took care of it. It won't happen again."

Gordon also pointed out that in May, the Agency of Education visited Compass for its five-year re-approval of its special education programs.

"Based on the state's visit, they recommended we expand our category of services," said Gordon. "We are in the process of applying for expanded categories of special education offerings."

So Gordon said he is a little baffled that some people are gossiping that Compass School won't be able to accept publicly funded students this coming year.

"I'm not sure how that leap of logic came about," he said.

In fact, Compass School is currently accepting applications for the 2019/2020 school year, and that includes students from as far away as Wethersfield and Vernon, as well as towns along the Connecticut River in New Hampshire.

Gordon said he doesn't see Compass as a competitor to local public schools.

"We believe in public education," he said. "But most people have only two visions of what a high school can be — a large community high school or an elite prep school. But there are a lot of things on the continuum between those two. The way you serve all the children in our communities is by having a variety of schools to best fit the needs of every student."

The Compass School, an independent seventh-through-12th-grade school in Westminster, recently celebrated its 20th anniversary and is busy getting ready for its 21st year, which starts this fall.

"What we do works really well," said Rick Gordon, head of school. "It works for the students and it works for the families."

To learn more about Compass School and the its scholarships and financial aid programs, visit online at compass-school.org or contact info@compass-school.org.


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