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District may give Pontiac pupils a ride

June 19, 2013 - After being approached by Walton Charter Academy, a K-8 school in Pontiac, Oxford Community Schools' administrators are considering sending a bus there to pick up students entering their freshman year of high school as a part of the schools of choice program.

"The reason they met with us was because most of their students would prefer to come to Oxford if they had a way to get here," said Superintendent Dr. William Skilling. "Right now, we have not decided whether to offer the service because we're still waiting to see if we have 40 students who are approved to come."

Skilling explained they need a minimum of 40 students, but not more than 44 because that's the maximum number of high school age students a school bus can accommodate.

It would take pproximately $49,000 a year to cover bus maintenance, gas and a bus driver for that run to Pontiac. Skilling said that's equal to the amount of state funding they get for seven students. Each student brings in $7,145 in revenue.

"The money from the (state) foundation allowance (generated by) the other 33 students would go toward . . . the education of the students plus providing additional revenue for the school district," Skilling said.

"We don't want to just cover cost of educating 40 more students. We want to make sure there is a significant surplus in order to offset the cost of programming and opportunities for all kids."

This is not a new concept.

Skilling said Oxford has been sending a bus to Metamora to pick up students from the Lapeer school district for five years. They pick up 19 students there.

"These students ride a bus run we already had for Oxford students living in Metamora," Skilling noted. "Part of our district is in Metamora."

Last year they began busing 24 kids from the Dryden school district.

"In all three instances (Metamora, Dryden and Walton Charter), we never planned or strategized where to send a bus," Skilling said. "In all three cases people came to us requesting (our services) and we set our parameters or criteria (for how) we would do it."

The only criteria for schools of choice incoming freshmen, according to Skilling, is they can't have any history of disciplinary issues such as suspensions. If they are schools of choice as 10th-12th graders they are required to be in one of specialized programs such as International Baccaulareate, the bio medical , the arts conservatory or engineering.

"The laws don't allow you discriminate (based) on academic performance and they don't allow you to discriminate (based on) whether they are special needs or not, Skilling added.

This past year Oxford had a total of 1,118.31 full-time equivalent (FTE) students, which includes K-12 virtual students, K-12 traditional seated students, Crossroads for Youth, Bridges Alternative Education and St. Joseph Catholic School.

Total revenue generated by non-resident schools of choice students this past year was $7.9 million.

"Starting next year, we will no longer have SOC (Schools of Choice) students at Crossroads for Youth program since they (became a separate charter school)," Skilling noted.

While busing students from other districts is a great source of revenue, Skilling said he doesn't like having to compete for students in order to keep sustainable revenues.

"The way the state has set-up school funding is they made it a zero-sum game," he explained. "In order for a district to win financially and prosper, another district has to lose and those school districts suffer."

"I don't like that system and I don't think it's a good system because it's going to cause public education to implode," Skilling continued. "But until the system changes we, as a public school, have to work at making our district attractive to (outside) students in order to maintain (the) programs and opportunities we currently have."

Trevor graduated with degrees in English and communications from Rochester College. He wrote for his college and LA View newspapers before joining The Clarkston News in May 2007.
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