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School administration looking to scale back

Open enrollment door may be closing slightly

By Doug Lindner
Solon Economist

SOLON– The Solon Community School District (SCSD) is considering a slightly more restrictive open enrollment policy.
At a July 14 meeting, Superintendent Sam Miller provided the SCSD Board of Directors with a proposal to revise the caps currently in place for inbound open enrollment at Lakeview Elementary.
Back in April 2013, the school board approved a policy for kindergarten through fourth grades at Lakeview that cut off open enrollment when the number of students in each grade reached a level five seats below capacity.
Miller is now proposing increasing the cushion to 10 seats.
Doing so would effectively close open enrollment for all but second grade at Lakeview.
The revised policy was discussed at the board’s July 14 meeting, but isn’t expected to be considered officially until September.
In the meantime, however, Miller said SCSD staff are informally operating under the new guidelines to allow for any influx of students who move into the district.
That’s what happened with last year’s second grade class, which consisted of 118 students at the end of the school year, and therefore was closed to open enrollment. For the upcoming 2014-2015 year, resident enrollment increased the number to 125 students, forcing the creation of a sixth classroom for the new third graders.
“We think we’re going to see more resident students moving into Solon,” Miller said, explaining the need for a revised policy to board members.
Open enrollment, guided by the Iowa Code, is the process by which a family living outside a school district’s boundaries can petition the school for a new student’s admission. The approval or denial of an open enrollment request is decided by the receiving district, and application must be made by March 1 for the following school year (Sept. 1 for kindergarten students enrolling in school for the first time).
The district has been growing through open enrollment, but needs to leave enough space in classrooms to absorb students who physically move within the school’s boundaries.
“Open enrollment does help us to a point,” Miller said, noting one elementary grade level would have about 30 less children without it.
But that also has to be balanced with established target class sizes for each grade level– 22 students per section for kindergarten and first grade, 24 for second through fourth, and 27 for the middle and high school.
Kindergarten can be an especially hard grade level to accommodate open enrollment, because many resident families wait until the last minute to notify the school.
Although the district hosts a kindergarten round-up in April to get a handle on the numbers for the upcoming fall session, Lakeview Principal Jodi Rickels said around 10 unexpected resident students show up annually, making it difficult to plan for open enrollment.
Under the revised plan presented by Miller, kindergarten would have an open enrollment waiting list that would provide the district added cushion. Open enrollment decisions would likely be delayed until sometime in August, by which time most of the resident students would be known.
How staff would track applications and manage the waiting list is an issue that will need to be resolved before the new guidelines are approved in September, Miller said.
Currently, Board Secretary Kris Wentzien said she fields several calls a day from families asking about open enrollment opportunities.
“When would be the appropriate time to start allowing families to put their name on the list?” Miller asked. “It sounds like a trivial matter, but it’s actually a big political thing. I can see someone with a two- or three-year old who wants to send their students to our preschool saying ‘put me on the list.’”
The district can’t put preferences on open enrollment, Miller said; for example, saving capacity for SCSD teachers to open enroll their students.
“Just the record keeping alone could become very confusing,” board member Rick Jedlicka said, suggesting a one-year limit to the waiting list.
Wentzien will be handling open enrollment requests, but board members discussed whether the process could be moved online.
“She’s going to be busy as heck for a day or two,” Board President Dick Schwab said, questioning the protocol for creating a waiting list. “And if somebody calls in at 8:05 (a.m.) and she’s on the phone until 4 o’clock when that person calls back, and there’s 10 people ahead of them.”
“Those are all the things that need to be decided,” Miller said.