When does the door close on open enrollment?
SOLON– The Solon school board is happy with the way a recently-adopted open enrollment policy is working.
The district closed open enrollment for the second grade at Lakeview Elementary earlier in the year based on targets established for each grade level. All other grade levels are still accepting new students. March 1 is the deadline to file an open enrollment request with the district.
At a meeting Monday, Jan. 13, school board members and superintendent Sam Miller revisited the document used to monitor the number of students in each grade, which was approved last year.
Open enrollment is the process by which a family living outside the district’s boundaries can petition a school for a new student’s admission. The approval or denial of an open enrollment request is decided by the receiving district.
If the application is accepted, the per-pupil funding provided by the state follows with the student to the new district.
The Solon Community School District (SCSD) approved the establishment of target class sizes for open enrollment (OE) at an April 2013 meeting. School board members discussed the targets again at a December 2013 meeting, and continued the topic at the regular board meeting Jan. 13. The data presented at the January meeting related to grades kindergarten through sixth.
During the January session, board member Dean Martin wondered whether the district should be looking more closely at putting the brakes on.
“All of our talk recently has been about some of the stress that we have going on, particularly at the middle school,” Martin said, noting the district has decisions to make about facilities in the next year.
“I think it’d be good to close things down in the short term to allow us more flexibility and more time to get our facilities long-term in a position where we can continue to grow through open enrollment,” he added.
For the last five years, Miller said, the district has not been growing through certified enrollment, but from open enrollment.
“That can change, there are lots of houses being built,” Miller added.
He pointed out that Lakeview’s third grade currently has four sections, but is close to needing a fifth.
“It’s one section away from being a five-section elementary,” Miller said. If it were to grow to the point that there were six sections of each grade level, he said, the district would have to move a grade to a different facility.
“It’s probably the long-term place where Solon is going because we are a growing community,” Miller said.
Currently, the enrollment limits vary by grade, as does how close each grade is to reaching capacity.
Based on the document presented to the board, kindergarten is the closest, with room for one more student. There are currently 104 students in kindergarten, with an open enrollment cap of 105 and a capacity for 110. First grade has room for 15 more students, while the remainder of the grades listed were in the single-digits.
At the middle school, principal Mike Herdliska reported room for two additional classrooms, but those will be gone with the start of the 2014-2015 school year, as two new teachers are being recommended (one of those will be following the current class of fourth graders).
“If we follow these rules, we still have to have five families actually move to Solon (for second grade to reach capacity),” board member Dan Coons said. “If we stay at these limits, and we actually close open enrollment where it is, I think we’re going to be okay.”
Board member Tim Brown agreed.
“I hate changing the rules all the time,” Brown said. “There was considerable discussion last year on setting this process up, and it seems to me the administration has done a good job of monitoring this.”
In the short term, he said, the district should continue to watch the enrollment levels closely.
“I do agree we’ve go to be actively managing this, because we don’t want to wind up in a situation where we’ve got more people than we can handle in the system,” he said.
And closing open enrollment unilaterally could have unintended consequences, observed board member Rick Jedlicka.
He expressed concern that making across the board changes to open enrollment could affect “people’s ability to kind of use this as their feeder system to get their kids in the district and then ultimately move (here),” which he called a “win-win for everybody.”
But the district also has a lot of staff members residing outside the district who bring their children to Solon for education, he said. “Eliminating open enrollment going forward could potentially start to impact staff,” Jedlicka said.
Barring board action, board president Dick Schwab said, the administration would continue to keep an eye on the enrollment numbers, reporting back to the board as needed.
Martin, seeing no support for closing open enrollment, declined to make a motion.