Space crunch limits open enrollment

Some fifth-grade open enrollees unlikely to return
By: 
Scott Girard

Open enrollment caps
Year         Spots
2011-12    139
2012-13    98
2013-14    85
2014-15    30

Current fifth-grade open enrollment students in the Verona Area School District will likely have to leave next year’s enrollment in the hands of a lottery.

Monday, the district limited open enrollment spaces to 30 total, with only five for sixth-graders. The district requires students to reapply for open enrollment between their fifth and sixth-grade years, leaving 23 students to apply for the five openings at Savanna Oaks Middle School.

Every school district can choose one year to have open enrollment students reapply, and VASD has had the year between fifth and sixth grade since open enrollment began in the 1998-99 school year.

The 30 total spots is about one-third of last year’s and far below the more than 400 requests Verona got to open enroll last year. But district staff say there simply isn’t enough space to accommodate the sort of open enrollment numbers that have boosted the district’s budget in recent years.

The board’s decision Monday comes as the district explores the possibility of building at least one more elementary school in the near future. Elementary school enrollment has been nearing and sometimes surpassing capacity limits.

“It’s a significant change recognizing that our schools are tight,” VASD director of community services John Schmitt said. “Most of the elementary schools said right from the top, ‘We can’t add additional kids.’”

Schmitt said recent legislation that moved the date for boards to approve open enrollment numbers up to January was another part of what led to the lower number, because school principals are unsure what their in-district enrollment will be. That means they do not want to risk having enrollment be too high and therefore having to hire another staffer or something else that will increase expenses.

“It handcuffs the school districts,” he said.

When there are more applications than spaces, the district holds a “lottery” to pick who will fill the open spaces and creates a waiting list.

Applications for open enrollment are due at the end of April, and Schmitt said any potential lotteries will take place in early May. The Verona Area International School will have an open enrollment spot for one second-grader and one third-grader, the only spaces for new elementary school open enrollees.

At Verona Area High School, there are 12 openings for new ninth-graders, six 10th-graders and five 11th-graders.

That means no spots for new seniors. Schmitt said that was a calculated decision he and VAHS principal Pam Hammen made, as many of those students come to the district credit-deficient and don’t graduate at the end of the year.

“That counts as a ding against us,” Schmitt said.

The decision will also have a significant financial impact – with the district likely hundreds of thousands of dollars less than what it has received in past years from open enrollment students. The state reimburses the district for these students at the cost of attendance, which will be $6,634 per student next year, superintendent Dean Gorrell said.

During the 2012-13, open enrollment brought $1,077,865 to the district’s budget through having more students enroll in than out. District business manager Chris Murphy said this year’s numbers have not been calculated yet, because the district does not calculate open enrollment funds into the budget on a recurring basis, instead waiting until numbers are final at the end of each year.

While the exact impact of the lower limits for next year could fluctuate depending on how many students open enroll out of the district, Murphy said he’d expect it to be around $250,000 less than 2012-13.

Retirements

Two longtime district administrators were approved for early retirement at the Monday night board meeting. Badger Ridge Middle School principal David Jennings has been principal for 19 years, but he will step down at the end of this school year.

Schmitt will also retire after 26 years in the district, and after he spoke to the board about open enrollment at Monday’s meeting, he thanked the members for letting him serve the district for so long.

Gorrell, who has been with the district for nine years, said he would “miss them very much.”

Calendar finalized

The board also voted to finalize the 2014-15 school calendar. School will begin Tuesday, Sept. 2, and go until Thursday, June 11. The first long weekend of the school year will be Thursday, Oct. 30, to Monday, Nov. 3, over Halloween weekend.

Winter break will last from Wednesday, Dec. 24, through Friday, Jan. 2.

Spring break will be the week of April 6-10.

Salary adjustments

The board also voted to alter the administrator salary schedule to increase the salary for the New Century School director and special education supervisor, a position created last year.

As the schedule had been previously approved, that position was making less than an associate principal was making at another school, even though the NCS position was a 240-day contract, while the associate principal contract was for 220.

The salary was increased from $93,600 to $103,920, which director of human resources Jason Olson said was below the elementary school principal level but above the associate principal level.

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