Thursday, June 24, 1999

Schools look at district transfers

Suburban trades being explored

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati Public Schools leaders are considering an open-enrollment policy that would blur the boundaries between city and suburban schools.

        Administrators hope a reciprocal policy would increase diversity in city schools and give city students more educational choices, no matter what district they enroll in, while allowing suburban students to attend popular CPS programs without the burden of tuition.

        Superintendent Steven Adamowski said the policy also could spur a healthy competition among districts, because students' home districts would fund the cost of their education no matter what district they enrolled in.

        CPS students would get first dibs on the district's programs, administrators stressed. The issue arose Wednesday at the school board's committee meetings.

        But skeptics worry that open enrollment would be little more than desegregation-driven busing. Lifting the tuition requirement for out-of-district students could encourage families, who otherwise might move to the city to avoid tuition bills, to stay put in the suburbs, said CPS board member Harriet Russell.

        And while some community activists say CPS should return to neighborhood-based schools, open enrollment could further scatter students, they say.

        Mr. Adamowski plans to convene a meeting of suburban superintendents in coming weeks to gauge support. A more regional approach to education, he argued, could alleviate many of the ills CPS suffers.

        “There's a strong economic undercurrent here in that we could recapture some students who leave the district,” Mr. Adamowski said. “We have one of the most closed systems in the nation between city and suburb. That has a segregating effect economically, racially and socially and is not the best thing for education.”

        CPS must take a lead on open enrollment because other districts probably won't consider it without “a giant” like CPS acting, he added.

        But some board members worried that open enrollment would send CPS' enrollment, which has fallen steadily in the past decade, plummeting.

        “The suburbs are the giants in this situation, not CPS, and they're united in their dislike and disdain for Cincinnati,” board member Arthur Hull said. “We have more to lose than they do, by a long shot.”

        One NAACP member called open enrollment a “camouflage for busing.”

        “The NAACP stance has always been that black kids don't have to be around white kids to learn,” said Ivan E. Watts, a member of the National Associ ation for the Advancement of Colored People-Cincinnati branch's education committee. “What type of message are you sending to black kids, that in order to upgrade schools you have to bring in white kids?”

        While increasing diversity is important, open enrollment could backfire just as CPS' desegregation-driven magnet programs did, by creating a dual education system — white and wealthier students fill many magnet slots while poor and black students remain in neighborhood schools, Mr. Watts said.

        But Bill Taylor, the Washington, D.C., attorney who successfully lobbied a federal judge to reopen a desegregation case against CPS recently, welcomed talk about open enrollment.

        “Some form of interchange between the city and the suburbs would be constructive as long as it's a two-way thing,” Mr. Taylor said. “Kids who are in CPS schools, particularly in those that are failing, ought to have the opportunity to enroll in suburban schools.”

        School for Creative and Performing Arts Principal Jeffrey Brokamp said it could help his school attract more students.

        The Over-the-Rhine school expects to enroll 950 students this fall but has a 1,050-student capacity. About 40 out-of-district students pay tuition to attend SCPA, but dozens more don't enroll because of tuition, Mr. Brokamp said. Eliminating tuition costs could fill those empty seats, he added.

        CPS has collected $137,000 in tuition this year, Treasurer Richard Gardner said. Tuition is set by the state; in 1998-99, it cost $4,668 for Ohio residents and $6,374 for out-of-state residents.

        A 1989 state law allowed open enrollment among public districts, but few local districts have endorsed it.


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