COVENTRY TWP. Open enrollment is a topic current school board president Bob Wohlgamuth has dealt with for many years.
Wohlgamuth said open enrollment in Coventry first began on an experimental basis in 1989 while he was serving his first term on the board and noted that several states were trying open enrollment out at the time.
"The Ohio School Board Association and the Ohio Legislature as a form of school choice allowed us to start experimenting with open enrollment," Wohlgamuth said. "It had to be on an agreement between two districts that agreed to implement a policy to allow open enrollment on a trial basis."
Coventry decided to conduct a trial basis with neighboring district Springfield.
Coventry started open enrollment in full force in 1993 following the district purchasing the Jackie Lee’s building (current Coventry Elementary School), which allowed for the district to have two high schools.
"That’s when open enrollment started coming in quite heavily," Wohlgamuth said.
Wohlgamuth said at that time, the board told the superintendent to give us all possible ideas to improve education for children.
"This was a way to look at school choice for kids and bring some other kids in and offer an education and get the money that comes with it," Wohlgamuth said.
CURRENT OPEN ENROLLED STUDENTS
Coventry currently has 762 open enrolled students in the district this year. Coventry was the leading school for the number of open enrolled students in the state for many years. However, it recently fell behind Austintown Fitch Local Schools in suburban Youngstown for having the most students open enrolled.
"We have lost over 100 open-enrolled students in the last five years," superintendent Russell Chaboudy said.
Chaboudy said several factors have played into why the district has lost students and he believes the district's financial situation along with the increased competition from other schools are two of the main reasons.
Chaboudy also said Manchester used to only accept open enrolled students for high school, but now it offers open enrollment for all grades. He also said Green offers limited open enrollment; Springfield has a new high school; and Barberton also has open enrollment.
"I think the controversy within the community has probably driven some students away too," Chaboudy said.
Across the state of Ohio, 481 districts offer open enrollment to any district, while 53 only offer open enrollment to adjacent districts. There are 118 districts in Ohio that do not offer any open enrollment.
Many the open-enrolled students who come to Coventry come from Firestone Park and Kenmore neighborhoods in Akron.
"We are just as close as some of their buildings to them," Chaboudy said "It not a far drive and it is easy access to get here."
With open enrollment being around for 23 years, Chaboudy said many families have had several generations of children go through Coventry.
The state auditor’s performance audit released earlier this year revealed Coventry is losing money from open enrollment. District officials, on the other hand, aren’t quick to agree with that report.
Coventry receives $5,997 for each open enrolled student compared to $7,063 for each resident student. The audit found the district has lost just more than $1 million in fiscal year 2014-15 due to open enrollment. The audit also said the district could save money by cutting the number of open enrolled students, which would maximize staffing levels.
Wohlgamuth said no one in the state has really taken a good, hard look at open enrollment and if there is a cost associated.
"It is a real tough animal out there that you need to take a good, hard long look at," Wohlgamuth said. "It is not something you can’t take a simplistic look at, there are so many different variables when it comes to the education of children."
State Auditor Dave Yost also released a special report in December focusing on open enrollment in four districts. In addition to Coventry, the special report looked at Austintown Local Schools, Hubbard Exempted Village Schools and Madison Local Schools.
"Open enrollment is a complex equation with no single solution," Yost said. "School districts considering this educational option should tailor policies to their priorities, constantly monitor their outcomes and adjust accordingly."
Chaboudy said the report, which compared Coventry to three other schools, highlighted three districts that are fairly new to open enrollment in the last eight to 10 years.
"We have had these students for years," Chaboudy said. "So, it is easier to control open enrollment when it is starting rather than when it is ingrained in your system."
Chaboudy said he believes his job is to provide the best education possible for students.
"Having more students has allowed us to offer more programs, activities and opportunities for all students," Chaboudy said. "What I fear most is if you cut all these programs, not only do you lose all the open enrollment students, but you lose the students looking for a better educational opportunity."
Chaboudy said if Coventry doesn’t have the programs students want, students will seek out the program elsewhere.
"I just see it as a domino effect," Chaboudy said. "In the long run, it will destroy the school system."