Source: Sherman Publications

Remove Images

Class size, funding key in Schools of Choice debate

by David Fleet

April 18, 2012

Goodrich- At 6 p.m., April 23 the board of education is expected to vote on the future of the Schools of Choice program for the 2012-13 school year.

On Monday, board members, teachers, and school administration deliberated for more than three hours in a special meeting on how to proceed with a growing Schools of Choice (SOC) enrollment within the district. At issue, say school officials, are increasing class sizes in some grades. One of the solutions discussed is a possible cap on SOC students in specific grades.

According to data released by the school district, for the past five years the number of SOC students have grown steadily—from 125 SOC students in the 2007-08 school year to 293 SOC students in the 2011-12 school year. Financially, the SOC program has been a boost to the district's sagging revenues. Based on the current $6,846 per student, the SOC is netting $2,005,878.

Currently, SOC students comprise about 12 percent of the total operational funding of the district based on revenues of about $16 million.

In April 2010 the school board voted 4-3 to join the state's Schools of Choice program for the 2010-2011 school year. The board voted out of the Genesee County program. By opting into the state's Schools of Choice program, Goodrich joins other districts in opening up enrollment to students from other districts, which allows an unlimited influx of students from outside the district.

The decision keeps the window for enrollment open until the end of the first week in September, and will also allow enrollment during the second semester of the school year. However, for the past two years the board had closed the Schools of Choice door in January. The state Schools of Choice program will not require a release from school administration if the student opts to come to Goodrich.

"Do we have a magic number with Schools of Choice—both financially and class size?" asked Chip Shultz, board trustee. "When class sizes get too high do we just create a new classroom?"

Trustee Jeff Gardner voted for Schools of Choice the past two years.

"I still support Schools of Choice," he said. "We have to make it work—take some middle ground now. There are many variables to consider, including new students who move into the community that will also impact enrollment.

This year there may be some caps on grades or shutting down grades altogether from Schools of Choice. It's time to make some changes."

While the numbers have grown, just how to deal with the influx of students and class size is a key issue for school administration. Board Vice-President Linda Jackson voted against the Schools of Choice policy the past two years.

"What do we have to do to fund eduction?" she asked. "At one point it was 22 students per classroom. We are fighting now to keep our standards."

Superintendent John Fazer said many variables need to be considered.

"The Schools of Choice has allowed us to maintain programs," said Fazer. "Consider there will be 190 students graduating from the high school this year. Right now we have 120 students in the kindergarten class. The gamble will be if students are going to be moving into the district over the next few years."

According to district SOC reports, the greatest number of students are from Grand Blanc, 111, Atherton, 39, and Davison, 32. Out of county schools include Brandon, 27 students, Lapeer, 19, and Holly, 10.

"The financial impact of SOC students is the equivalent of 25 teachers or 25 school buses," emphasized Fazer. "We are also projecting dipping into our fund balance for $1,622,675 in the next budget (2012-13), which will leave a balance of $308,868 (1.78 percent) to start the 2013 school year. We have to stop the skid somewhere."