COVENTRY TWP. When Coventry Local Schools begin the 2018-19 school year, it will do so with 40 fewer open enrollment students.
In May, the district announced a reduction plan to help produce a positive five-year-forecast. The plan reduces four elementary school teachers, two middle school teachers, one high school teacher and two support positions.
Coventry Schools Superintendent Lisa Blough said the district plans to accept 40 fewer open enrolled students this upcoming school year as a part of the reduction plan.
Blough said this is a transition period for the district. She said the biggest influx of applications come from those entering kindergarten and sixth grade. On average, the district receives 40 to 45 new applications for kindergarten. This year the district received 50 applications, but only accepted 10 new students into kindergarten. At the sixth grade level, the district has recently experienced a drop in the number of applications.
In addition to a large amount of open enrollment applications for kindergarten, the district is already expecting 69 resident students for kindergarten. That number is an increase from last year and Blough said a few more students are likely to sign up before the start of school.
"With only four kindergarten teachers, we really have to hold tight," Blough said.
Ideally, Blough would like to see class sizes between a 20 to 1 and 22 to 1 student-to-teacher-ratio, but said this year the classes will be about 25 to 1 for kindergarten.
Coventry is also experiencing an influx at first grade and Blough said the district plans to bring back one of the elementary teachers it recently let go. Following the reduction, the district only had four first grade teachers and Blough would like to see the district maintain five. She said the class sizes may have been higher than 27 to 1, which is the maximum based on the teacher’s contract.
Bringing this teacher back won’t have a huge impact on the budget and five-year-forecast, Blough said.
"We are going to have to be looking for other ways to reduce costs to offset the cost of bringing this teacher back," Blough said.
When Blough took over as superintendent, one of the areas she has wanted to focus on is having reasonable class sizes around 25 to 1.
"We have been doing better the past few years," Blough said.
The district does prioritize how they accept students. First to be accepted are current students; then staff of children, siblings; and finally everyone else. All applications are time stamped, so it is critical for parents to return them to the district as soon as possible.
This year, the district also saw a big influx of siblings. Blough said a waiting list has been created and anyone can contact her to see if they can be placed on it.
Katherine Murdock has a son who is entering fourth grade in Coventry and has been open enrolled since he was in kindergarten. She also has two daughters, one of which is ready to enter kindergarten.
Murdock applied to open enroll her daughter and was denied.
"My heart instantly broke," Murdock said. "I spent that whole day and part of the next day crying and wondering where I was going to send her. I open enroll my children because I'm terrified at the thought of them going to Akron Public Schools."
The family had been searching for a home to move into Coventry and they did finally come across a house to rent so they can be considered resident students.
Blough said she has heard from some upset parents, but also has heard from some community members who support what is being done.
Current students no longer accepted
While the majority of the 40 students being reduced is through new applications, some parents with children already enrolled have received rejection letters for next school year.
These rejection letters have left some parents with very little time to find a new school for their child before school begins this fall. Blough said there is a reason behind those who are receiving rejection letters and they just aren’t being kicked out for no reason.
The district has had a policy in place that all students must reapply each year. Blough said when a parent applies they are made aware of certain requirements that must be met for a student to remain in the district. Three areas the district looks at are discipline, special education and fees.
If a student has a lot of discipline issues, they are not accepted back, Blough said. With special education, class sizes are critical and by law they can only be a certain size. If the class gets too full, the district cannot accept additional students. Also if a student doesn’t pay their fees or the family doesn’t work toward paying them through a payment plan, the student may not be accepted back.
"If we are going to accept students to Coventry Schools, we want to make sure they appreciate the opportunity to be here," Blough said. "We are not taking kids out randomly."
Blough said the district has seen a downward trend in enrollment and a lot is based on there being so many different paths for students to obtain an education.
At one point, the district had more than 800 open enrolled students and Blough said, reflecting back, accepting that many may not have been the best decision.
"I believe, at times, we did take more than we should have based on the financial situation at that time," Blough said.
She said while the district may have seen more money coming in, the impact was negative on the quality of education.
"You can pack 50 kids into a classroom but you are not going to get a good education out of it," Blough said. "My number one goal is to improve the quality of education."