April 10, 2013 - Independence Township resident Thomas Discenna went to Board of Education meeting on March 25 with an open mind.
By the time he approached the podium to share his thoughts on the district having open enrollment for grades Kindergarten through second, his mind was made.
"As I hear more about Schools of Choice, the more concerned I become whether our future is in this school district," he said. "Among concerns is the numbers, in my mind. The program will need a fair amount of advertising to attract students from other districts, which is insane because all these school districts seem to be competing against each other for more students."
The district presented a plan during the meeting to build student enrollment to address the shortfall of $3.983 million in 2013-2014. The plan would offer the school of choice option to younger grades beginning next school year.
"We want to have the best education for Clarkston students. We know our enrollment has declined over the last few years," said Superintendent Dr. Rod Rock.
"The state hasn't provided enough money so we have been in a cycle of cutting. The only way for us to bring in revenue for students we do have is increased enrollment. We can't pass a revenue. We can't charge tuition. We don't want to compete with other districts for students. It is the situation the state has put us in. All of the other districts in the county are considering this so we should consider this."
Deputy Superintendent Shawn Ryan explained part of the loss they have had the last few years was students.
"The loss is across the district, and it is not for one reason or another. The response is to propose a limited school of choice option," Ryan said.
The district lost 72 students over the past year, equaling $509,904, which Ryan pointed out is a loss of 2-3 teachers in the district. The trend of enrollment continues to go down through the years.
To offset the students they are losing, the plan is to add at least 100 students with no more than 50 students per grade level across the district. They would also only add students living in Oakland County.
They would specify availability per grade level per building, as some of the elementaries are not at capacity.
Ryan pointed out they have parents of Early Childhood Center students who want to continue in Clarkston and they have students living on borderline roads also wanting to attend. It would open the opportunity for them.
They formed rules for school of choice including accepting in-district and children of employees first. They would accept applications for 15-30 days, and accept all applicants if numbers do not exceed available spots. If the amount of applications exceed availability, they will have a random drawing and waiting list. The district can also refuse enrollment based on suspensions or expulsions. The student will have continuous enrollment through graduation.
The students have to enroll by the end of the first week of school and the district is not required to provide transportation.
"Once they come in, they stay as Clarkston students," Ryan added. "We believe by entering our program on the ground level quickly they will experience all the benefits and structure of the Clarkston program. As they grow up in that program, they will have the benefits."
"Schools are places where communities grow," Discenna said. "The students get to know each other. The parents get to know each other through the kids. If we shuffle the kids all around the county I am concerned we'll lose that sense of being a school district and a place kids get to know each other and grow up together. You are making a commitment to those kids."
"I have watched explosive growth in my neighborhood," said Bridget Gibbs. "If I was a new family in my neighborhood, I would question sending my elementary student because of school of choice. People move to Clarkston for Clarkston. They didn't move to Oxford. They chose us. We talked about school of choice before in other programs. The community spoke before, and they will speak again."
Administration is looking at an August deadline for final staffing placement. Ryan pointed out they would like to know sooner because the deadline for layoffs is approaching.
"We see this at comprehensive plan to add staff and elevate those hot spots we have in August," he added. "We want to make sure students in Clarkston are taken care of first."
"I have worked in education. I know once the pressure begins to add people in – it becomes almost impossible to turn off," Discenna added. "Take a long, hard look at this and don't jump into it."
Lake Orion Community Schools Board of Education recently passed the same plan to open Schools of Choice for Kindergarten, first grade and second grade with a 6-1 vote.
Wendi graduated from the University of Michigan-Flint with a degree in communications. She wrote for the Michigan Times college paper and Grand Blanc View before joining The Clarkston News in October 2007.