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Enrollment jump due to SOC

October 12, 2011 - The first increase in students recorded in many years here can be directly attributed to students who reside elsewhere.

Brandon's student count Oct. 5 revealed an increase of five students. This marks the end to a 5-year streak of decline in enrollment. However, the slide in resident enrollment continues for the sixth straight year. The slight jump in total enrollment is a result of a significant leap in enrollment of schools of choice students, those who reside outside district boundaries.

This fall, the Brandon District has 460 schools of choice students enrolled, an increase of nearly 70 students over last year's 392 SOC students.

"I was surprised about the increase in schools of choice students," said Superintendent Lorrie McMahon. "It's an indication of Brandon's reputation. People want to come here. There are a lot of kids, but it means we can maintain programs for our resident students— programs that might need to be reduced otherwise."

Brandon has been a schools of choice district since 1996. In that inaugural year, just six students were enrolled from outside the district. The number of SOC students increased steadily through 2007, before dipping slightly in 2008 and 2009, and then jumping last year and again this year. By comparison, the district has lost more than 530 resident students in the past six years.

Controversy over schools of choice caused the school board to take a closer look at the program last year. Proponents cite the revenue schools of choice students bring to the district—roughly $2.9 million last year— as well as the diversity that results. Critics are concerned about behavior problems from SOC students, lower test scores, and lower property values (SOC parents/students don't live in the district or pay taxes here, but can still gain the benefit of the schools).

The district can reject SOC students with behavior problems, but can't reject them based on grades or ability.

After several discussions, the board approved three changes to the schools of choice guidelines— a yearly review of the program after the fall student count; academic assessments for each new student; and no admission of SOC students for the second and third trimesters.

A fourth recommendation, to eliminate acceptance of SOC students in 10th, 11th, and 12th grades, failed due to concern that students who currently reside here and may be moving out of the district, but want to continue to attend school here as SOC students, would not be able to under the new rule.

The number of SOC students at Brandon High School has been of special concern to some resident parents. This year, there are 211 SOC students at BHS out of roughly 1,250 total high school students. At the alternative high school, there are 17 students from out of district. McMahon notes that SOC students at the alternative high school were not recorded last year, and these are students that come and go, so the increased numbers of SOC students this year is higher than is truly accurate.

Brandon draws SOC students from numerous districts, with the highest number, 242, coming from Pontiac. Students also come from Oxford, 59; Holly, 57; Lapeer, 39; Goodrich, 26; Waterford, 9; Clarkston, 9; Lake Orion, 6; Davison, 4; Grand Blanc, 4; Clawson, 2; Bentley, 2; and Flint City Schools, 1.

School Board Trustee Debbie Schummer said she has informally questioned many students about the schools of choice program and never found one who is afraid in the buildings or has been bullied, which some opponents of SOC allege as problems.

"I've never heard kids say they don't like who's here," she said. "I don't know where that image of kids being terrified or not liking the schools of choice comes from."

Board Treasurer Greg Allar said he is not against the schools of choice program in "any way, shape or form."

McMahon said she is still waiting to hear what happens with legislation in Lansing that may require all districts to allow schools of choice and what changes there may be for districts like Brandon who are currently SOC districts.

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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