Few like Snyder's 'open' enrollment idea
August 03, 2011 - By Joe St. Henry
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder wants to offer mandatory open enrollment in all of the state's school districts.
If Lake Orion Schools Superintendent Marion Ginopolis and apparently many folks around here have it their way, that door will be slammed shut.
Earlier this year, Gov. Snyder outlined his idea for open enrollment, also known as Schools of Choice, in a special message on education reform sent to the state legislature.
Currently, 452 of the 551 school districts in the state offer such a program. Ginopolis said most of them provide such options to address declining student enrollments and, in turn, secure additional state funding as a result of student transfers. Lake Orion is one of the 99 districts opting or the Schools of Choice program.
Ginopolis thinks such decisions should continue to be made at the local school board level, rather than have them ordered from Lansing. Lake Orion's student population is very stable and there is no need to open the doors to out-of-district families, she stressed. Over the past three years, the district has averaged 7,784 students, with a projected enrollment of 7,777 for the 2011-12 school year.
"In this situation, one size does not fit all," the Superintendent said. "Our board should have the opportunity to evaluate what makes most sense for our district and then act accordingly."
Based on feedback to Ginopolis' community blog entry posted last week, results from a poll on the subject and comments on Facebook and other sources, it is clear most people in Lake Orion feel the same way. Few people are interested in open enrollment here. (Only 30 of 435 people who participated in the poll supported the mandate.)
The obvious question people ask, she said, is how would our schools change if they were opened to students of other school districts?
Lake Orion parent Amy Marcaccio Keyzer has two children in Lake Orion High School. She says she is lukewarm about Gov. Snyder's proposal to allow out-of-district students into Lake Orion schools if there is room. "Who determines if there is room and what would the impact be in the classroom?" she asked.
Fellow resident and school reform activist Karen Appledorn has an idea of what to expect, based on conversations she had with a high school administrator in 2008-09.
"We saw some students whose families moved here from Pontiac were not learning at the appropriate grade level," Appledorn said. "I certainly commend their parents for seeking out what's best for their children, but our high school had to develop special reading and math programs to get the kids up to speed. Teachers needed training and that cost money. Where are these funds going to come from today?"
Ginopolis acknowledged Oxford Community Schools did promote a Schools of Choice program when she was Superintendent there in the 1990s. At the time, the district was losing a significant number of students and, as a result, valuable state funding – at a time when property values were falling. The decision was carefully made and appropriate for Oxford, she said.
The real issue Michigan needs to address, both Ginopolis and Appledorn agreed, is how to fix failing school districts.
"People who can take advantage of open enrollment opportunities typically have kids that do fairly well in school and they have a means of transportation to get them to school," the Superintendent said. "What about the other children that may be struggling or whose parents cannot drive them across the county? That is why we need to fix their schools."
If the state mandates open enrollment, Appledorn envisions some school districts may actually shut down, with so many students leaving. "Obviously, that is not the solution," she said.
Concerned parent Keyzer has a better idea, "Why not provide the necessary funding and assistance to make every school district in Michigan an excellent one, so that caring parents won't feel compelled to drive their kids to other districts in order to get a high-quality education?"
While Ginopolis does not know the timeline for enacting a statewide open enrollment mandate, she said if the Governor is serious, the legislature may move quickly.
"Look how quickly school financing reform moved through – it took less than a year," she said. "There's no doubt in my mind the Governor and Legislature are very serious about addressing educational reform.
"I hope we have the opportunity to provide input on open enrollment."
Citizens concerned with the possibility of open enrollment in the Lake Orion Community Schools District need to contact their state legislators to voice their opinions before it is too late, said Ginopolis.
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