The School Board voted Monday to allow Ashland High School to enroll 25 Chinese students, who will pay $25,000 each next academic year, enabling it to become the first public school in the state charging tuition to international students.

The School Board voted Monday to allow Ashland High School to enroll 25 Chinese students, who will pay $25,000 each next academic year, enabling it to become the first public school in the state charging tuition to international students.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security must also approve the program, a process that could take as long as five months, possibly preventing the program from being implemented next school year, Superintendent Juli Di Chiro said.

"This happens to be the area where I have the greatest concerns right now," she told the board.

Di Chiro submitted the district's application to the federal department two weeks ago and is hopeful that it will be approved quickly, she said. The district needs to be given clearance to issue paperwork to the Chinese students, which would enable them to receive visas.

The district is modeling its Chinese program after one St. Mary's School in Medford implemented this fall.

The students, who would be high school juniors and approximately 16 years old, would live in Southern Oregon University dorms and enroll in regular Ashland High School classes as well as in specialized English classes.

The program is expected to be a moneymaker for the district and could bring in about $178,750 in the first year, said Jill Turner, the district's business manager.

The district would receive about $625,000 in tuition, but would need to spend about $446,000 to run the program, she said.

Each student would pay $25,000, which would include food, housing, health insurance and instructional fees. St. Mary's is able to charge more — $40,000 per student —because it is a private school, Di Chiro said.

The district would pay SOU $278,750 to provide housing and meals. The district would spend $50,000 to hire a program coordinator and $35,000 to hire a part-time English language instructor.

About $100,000 of the proceeds from the program would go toward implementing the high school's redesign, Di Chiro said.

"We feel there needs to be a benefit back to the high school, because it'll be taking the lion's share of the work instructing kids," she said.

The remaining amount would go into the district's general fund balance and could limit the district's needs for making budget cuts, if the state's funding for education continues to decrease.

Di Chiro will meet with a Chinese recruiting firm in January to discuss whether the district can begin recruiting students before the program has received federal approval.

"They might say, 'No problem,' or they might say we have to wait," she said.

The district expects to contract with the Cambridge Institute of Chinese Business Research, the same firm St. Mary's used to successfully recruit students, Di Chiro said. The recruitment fees will be paid by the participating families, not the district, she said.

Board members Heidi Parker and Ruth Alexander, who are advocates of second-language instruction, are creating a brochure about the high school to help attract students, Di Chiro said.

"I'm really excited about (the boarding program) and I think it's going to be very successful if we're able to do it," Alexander said.

Although the students would live in SOU dorms, the district hopes to match them with host families in Ashland, to help the students learn about American culture, Di Chiro said.

"This would be another way for them to experience an American family, even though they're not going to be living there," she said.

Most of the students who would attend the boarding school program would be from wealthy families and many would be seeking entrance to American universities, upon graduating from high school, Di Chiro said. Attending a boarding school program in the U.S. is seen by Chinese parents as a way for their students to improve their English and their chances at being accepted to American universities, she said.

The program will also benefit Ashland students in the high school's Mandarin Chinese classes, which began this year through a program funded by the Chinese government and the district.

"We know that Ashland is not very culturally diverse," Di Chiro said. "It's really good experience for our students to learn from and meet students from other cultures."

Contact reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-708-1158 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.