Setting clocks forward and glimpses of warmer temperatures signal spring is on the way, and for local public school districts that means preparing and making decisions on interdistrict open enrollment.

All Ohio school districts are given the choice every spring whether students from other districts may attend their district through the open enrollment process. State funding, provided to public school districts for each pupil, follows the student taking part in open enrollment to the new district.

In the current school year, 74.5 percent of Ohio’s 610 public school districts accepted open enrolled students from any other state district, 7.9 percent allowed open enrollment for students in adjacent districts only and 17.6 percent did not allow any open enrollment, according to the Ohio Department of Education’s Open Enrollment Report.

Locally, Berkshire Local Schools, Cardinal Local Schools, Chagrin Falls Exempted Village Schools, Chardon Local Schools, Kenston Local Schools, Newbury Local Schools and West Geauga Local Schools accept open enrollment from students in any other state district. Orange City Schools and Solon City Schools do not allow any open enrollment.

Each local district is free to set its own policies regarding open enrollment, including caps on the number of students accepted at each grade level, priority of which students will be accepted if applications exceed the number of slots available overall or in a given grade level, application procedures and deadlines.

Several districts including Berkshire, Chardon and West G opt to accept open enrollment due to overall declining enrollment to try to increase or at least maintain class sizes.

“It’s if we have programmatic space available, then we take into consideration an application. We do it for efficiency’s sake,” Chardon Assistant Superintendent Ed Klein said. “It turns out to be almost a wash on that number of students out, number of students in.”

Chardon currently has 84 open enrolled students out of 147 applications received last year, with the most students attending from Riverside Local Schools (34), Berkshire (15) and Cardinal (9). Applications for next year currently are being accepted with no set deadline in place as of yet.

Berkshire Superintendent John Stoddard said his district’s open enrollment caps are based around a general policy of having no more than 25 students in each classroom, with four to five teachers at each grade level. Currently, 195 open enroll students attend Berkshire.

“This year was the first year that we had more coming in than going out. A lot of that has to do with our new building more than anything else,” he said. “That’s generated some excitement, wanted some people to get in before we’re filled.” The district is building a new complex for all grades adjacent to the Kent State University Geauga Campus at a cost of $41.57 million with local taxpayers footing $27.83 million of the total.

Berkshire’s application period stretches from Feb. 8 to Sept. 1, and as of Feb. 20, the district had received 62 applications for the 2019-2020 school year, including 29 from Newbury, 15 from Chardon and 10 from Cardinal. Forty-nine students were reapplying and 13 were new applicants.

“It’s relatively steady,” Mr. Stoddard said of the stream of applications over the six-month period. “I’d say probably at the end of June, beginning of July we probably get more than other times.”

West G has the earliest application period in the area, with this year’s open enrollment window from Jan. 16 to Feb. 2. Its policy gives preference to students already taking part in open enrollment and provided 153 additional slots this year, according to Director of Pupil Personnel Amy Davis.

Ms. Davis said there are 143 students attending West G through open enrollment this school year, and West G received 116 re-applications and 139 new applications for the 2019-2020 year. While not all applications are guaranteed to be accepted, the highest number of applications came from Newbury (88 total, 59 new), South Euclid-Lyndhurst City Schools (64 total, 36 new) and Richmond Heights Local Schools (20 total, 7 new). She said caps were increased slightly this year for a number of factors including West G’s high state report card rating and the expected Newbury territory transfer into the district in 2020.

“We were 26th in the state (in Performance Index) and so that does make you more of a destination district,” Ms. Davis said. “We anticipated more applications anyway even before the Newbury situation was approved by their board.”

Districts including Kenston and Chagrin Falls set comparatively low caps reflecting the districts’ capacity. Forty-four students applied for Chagrin’s 37 available slots for the 2018-19 year, with nine from Solon, eight from Kenston, six from Newbury and four from West Geauga being among those accepted. Superintendent Bob Hunt said Chagrin’s policy is mainly focused on ensuring funding for an agreement with the teachers’ union that children of staff can attend school at Chagrin Falls.

“It’s predominantly staff members’ children that we have gone through with the open enrollment process,” he said. “We open it up every year, consider and have those conversations in March and April. Right now, it allows us to capture a little bit of the state funding and bring it over to our school district to offset cost.” The Chagrin Falls Board of Education is expected to formally approve the policy for next year in April, with a May 1 application deadline.

The majority of open enrollment at Kenston this year came from reapplications, with just one of three new student applications accepted and just two new slots available in kindergarten through 12th grade. Superintendent Nancy Santilli said even with a low number of slots available, the open enrollment application process is not very time intensive so it makes sense to fill classrooms where there’s space.

“If we have the spot, we’ll accept them,” she said. “Overall, enrollment in the state is down. Where we have the availability of placing a student, we’re happy to place a student.” Kenston’s open enrollment application period for next year runs March 19 through June 1.

Solon Superintendent Joseph Regano said due to the district’s high rankings on the state report card and other measures, it would be unfeasible to process and accommodate the amount of applications and students wanting to take part in open enrollment into the high-achieving district.

“If we were to open our borders, with the prominence of our school district, we’d have to build buildings to take care of all of our kids, and we wouldn’t be able to do that,” he said. “We also have a strong belief that one of the best parts of Solon is being a Solon student for the whole K-12 career and we try to encourage that, and living in this part of the community is important to education.”

Tim Tedeschi covers the Solon and West Geauga Board of Education, as well as statewide education issues, sports and features. He is a lifelong diehard Cleveland Indians fan and a graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University.

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