Monday, August 11, 2003

Switch option appreciated

More districts adopt open enrollment

By Karen Vance
Enquirer contributor

BETHEL - Howie Glancy is looking forward to his senior year on Bethel-Tate's football team. His mother, Beverly, is even more excited because for the first time in four years, she won't have to pay $1,500 for him to play.

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The Glancys live in Clermont County's Felicity-Franklin School District. But because Felicity High doesn't have a football team, the Glancys have paid tuition the last three years to Bethel-Tate High so Howie could play football.

This year, the Bethel-Tate School District has adopted an open enrollment policy, which will allow Howie to attend tuition free.

Bethel-Tate is among a growing number of Ohio districts - primarily in rural areas with declining populations - that offer the program. In 1993, the first year, 6,442 Ohio students participated. In 2001-02 - the most recent statistics available - 27,733 students took advantage of open enrollment.

In Greater Cincinnati, the number of districts participating in open enrollment has grown from three in 1993 to eight. Tonight, another Clermont County district, Goshen, will discuss the issue at its board meeting.

"It definitely has been an option that has received more attention in the last few years as parents are looking for more opportunities for their children," said J.C. Benton, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education.

Educators say open enrollment appeals to parents looking for a school with after-school sports or one that accommodates a work schedule.

But open enrollment also means more dollars for districts.

The state has a minimum per pupil expenditure of $5,058, with state and federal funding accounting for about 50 percent of that contribution. Boosting enrollment means a boost in the state's contribution, Benton said.

That has rural districts with declining enrollment looking into the option.

Two Brown County school districts adopted open enrollment from the outset, and the program has been moving westward since. Williamsburg and Clermont Northeastern adopted policies in 2000-01 and 2001-02, respectively.

"We're trying to gain back the number of kids we've lost," said James Smith, superintendent for Bethel-Tate, which has been losing students to two of its neighboring districts, Williamsburg and Western Brown. "When you're heavily dependent on state funding, every student you get is important to you."

This year, about 20 students have applied for Bethel-Tate's program.

New Richmond, which has a tuition rate of $5,600 a year, is considering an open enrollment policy for 2004-05 to help reverse a 200-student loss from homes destroyed in the 1997 floods.

Bethel-Tate hopes to have the success Clermont Northeastern has enjoyed. That district went from a loss of nine students in 1999-2000 to a net gain of 34 in 2001-02.

Goshen Superintendent Charlene Thomas said the completion of new buildings in her district makes this an ideal time to put the issue before the board.

"Our numbers have been shrinking for the last few years, about 25 kids a year," Thomas said, citing open enrollment and an aging student population as chief reasons.

District officials think they can compete to get students to return, Thomas said.

"We have a lot to offer, strong programs, state-of-the-art facilities," she said. Two weeks ago, Cincinnati Public Schools voted 5-2 against adopting an open enrollment policy, but board president Sally Warner remains in favor of the issue.

"I'm always looking for ways to have more parental choice," Warner said. "I also like the idea of other districts opening up their doors to our students. My belief is nobody's going to do it until we do it."

About open enrollment

Ohio's Open Enrollment program took effect in 1993-94, giving districts the option of allowing students from geographically adjacent districts to attend their schools tuition-free. Schools can set guidelines and limits by grade level, school building or education program, and can give preference to students within their own district.

Who has it? In 2001-02 - the most recent statistics available - these districts did (number of students incoming from other districts listed):

•  Monroe Local Schools, Butler - 224 incoming
•  New Miami Local Schools, Butler - 90 incoming
•  Franklin City, Warren - 54 incoming
•  Clermont Northeastern, Clermont - 42 incoming
•  Middletown Local Schools, Butler - 37 incoming
•  Carlisle Local Schools, Warren - 14 incoming
•  Williamsburg Local Schools, Clermont - 11 incoming
• Bethel-Tate, Clermont - new program
--Source: Ohio Department of Education



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