Local superintendents said officials in their districts weigh how many children they might be losing for the year, the amount of money that follows students who choose to attend school in other districts, and how much available space they have when they decide whether to allow open enrollment. Districts also consider where the bulk of their funding stems from — the state or taxpayers.
Northwest Local Schools and Jackson Local Schools both earned top ratings from the state Department of Education for the 2011-12 school year.
They had similar four-year graduation rates and attendance rates, and both met all of the state’s standardized testing requirements.
But here’s a difference: Northwest Local Schools received more than double the amount of money per student from the state than Jackson Local Schools did in fiscal year 2012, according to district reports from the Ohio Department of Education.
Students across the state have the option of enrolling at Northwest Local Schools at no cost to them.
To attend Jackson Local Schools, however, a student from outside the district must be in high school and must pay tuition.
Open enrollment — which is when a student attends a school for free in a district his or her parents don’t live in — is permitted in 12 of the 17 school districts in Stark County, according to the Ohio Department of Education.
Local superintendents said officials in their districts weigh how many children they might be losing for the year, the amount of money that follows students who choose to attend school in other districts, and how much available space they have when deciding whether to allow open enrollment. Districts also consider where the bulk of their funding comes from — the state or taxpayers.
“As for what a district thinks the benefit (of open enrollment) is or isn’t, some schools will tell you that when a student comes from another school, the money comes, too,” John Charlton, spokesman for the department, said.
This year, Northwest Local Schools opted to open its doors to students across the state, not just those in neighboring districts.
The district, comprising students from Canal Fulton, New Franklin and Clinton, has room in its school buildings, and school board members decided there was no reason to confine enrollment to children in surrounding areas, superintendent Michael Shreffler said.
Northwest Local Schools joins nine other districts in Stark County with the same policy for the 2013-14 school year, according to data from the state department of education.
Shreffler said the district went through a difficult financial time a few years ago, and open enrollment is a way to reclaim some of the students who left during that period. He said he strives to reach a balance between the number of students going out and the number of students coming in.
The district received about $4,700 per pupil from the state during fiscal year 2012, according to the department of education. But Shreffler said open enrollment really isn’t about making money.
In Louisville, the school district doesn’t break even from bringing students in through open enrollment — in fact, the district was about $8,000 in the hole at the end of the last school year, superintendent Steve Milano said.
Page 2 of 3 - But if the district were to close its borders, it would lose about $700,000 because it wouldn’t have a way to recoup funds from children within the district leaving to attend other schools.
“Obviously, it’s a financial decision,” Milano said.
‘IF YOU WANT TO BENEFIT’
Jackson Local Schools isn’t faced with declining student numbers, so the district doesn’t need to offer open enrollment, superintendent Christopher DiLoreto said.
But another major deciding factor is that township residents are fronting the bulk of the money for the district. A property evaluation identifies Jackson as a wealthier district, so the township’s schools get fewer dollars from the state. That puts the burden of funding on the taxpayers who own that property — the local revenue garnered per pupil was almost three times the amount of the state revenue garnered per pupil, according to data from its 2012 department of education district profile.
At the high school level, students from other districts may pay tuition to attend. For the 2012-13 school year, the rate set by the state department of education was $6,804, DiLoreto said.
Another reason Jackson doesn’t allow open enrollment stems from concerns about devaluing residents’ homes — the values of which, in part, are based on the quality of the school system. If any student in a neighboring district can apply to enroll at Jackson Local Schools, there’s less incentive to live in the township, DiLoreto said.
“If you want to benefit from a Jackson education, you have to live in Jackson,” he said.
What Jackson does offer, however, is the opportunity for students from other districts to participate in career technical programs for free. Through an agreement formed among Jackson Local Schools, Lake Local Schools, North Canton City Schools and Plain Local Schools, students from any of the districts can take career-technical classes at any of the other institutions for no cost.
But as part of the compact, the districts have agreed not to allow open enrollment.
At Lake Local Schools, even if the district could consider open enrollment, superintendent Jeff Wendorf said he wouldn’t. There’s not enough space in the classrooms, and he’s heard it can become more difficult to pass property-tax levies if some of the students who attend the schools don’t live in the district.
Instead, he’s a fan of the freedom students have through the career technical agreement. The schools don’t have to duplicate program offerings, and students stay enrolled in their home districts.
“You’re not losing your kids and your money,” Wendorf said.
‘ALL ABOUT SCHOOL CHOICE’
Charlton said he can’t definitively peg why some schools have open enrollment and others don’t, though he reiterated some would say it’s financial.
Page 3 of 3 - But the reasoning behind open enrollment from the Ohio Department of Education’s standpoint is that it increases options for students and parents and allows them to have a choice, he said.
Shreffler said he’s thought a lot about the benefit of open enrollment. He likened it to conducting a college search, seeing as some schools offer programs others don’t — it gives students a chance to find the best fit.
“I’m all about school choice when the playing field is level,” he said.
Reach Alison at 330-580-8312
On Twitter: @amatasREP