COVENTRY TWP. Enrollment, especially open enrollment, remains a controversial issue in the Coventry Local School District.
Superintendent Lisa Blough said open enrollment is “such an ongoing controversy”.
She said enrollment numbers change every day, which impacts the district’s enrollment plan. Recently, the school board and the state oversight commission approved a five-year enrollment plan for the district.
The overall trend shows the district continuing to lose both open enrollment students and resident students. A continued drop in resident students is concerning to Blough as the district could lose out on state funding.
As of Nov. 19, Coventry Local Schools had 1,266 resident students and 557 open enrollment students.
During the 2011-12 school year, the district had 860 open enrolled students. The number of open enrollment students has continued to drop each year. As for resident students, the district had 1,313 during the 2016-17 school year. Since that school year, resident enrollment has also decreased.
Blough says the drop in enrollment is due to so many options for children such as charter schools, online schools and other neighboring districts that offer programs Coventry doesn’t.
Historically, Coventry loses the most students to Manchester and brings in the most open enrollment students from Akron. On average, Coventry loses between 120 and 130 resident students each year who decide to go elsewhere, which Blough said Coventry is responsible for paying $6,020 per student to other districts.
As of November, Coventry has lost 132 resident students, a number which Blough said will change by the end of the school year.
She said open enrollment not only impacts finances but also academics.
“If managed properly, open enrollment can have a positive impact both academically and financially,” Blough said.
The Ohio Department of Education reports that of the 561 public schools in the state, 430 offer open enrollment to any district, 39 to adjacent districts and 92 don’t offer open enrollment.
Blough said resident students who are in the district can remain in the district through open enrollment if they move to another district. She said the district is committed to holding people accountable and making sure families meet the requirements and turn in all the proper paperwork for open enrolled students.
One area Blough strived to work on when she took over as superintendent was to improve class sizes. She said class sizes are much more reasonable and that is something teachers can appreciate.
Class sizes at the elementary school generally have a 24 to 1 student to teacher ratio and about 25 to 1 at the middle school. Blough said some classes are still larger, especially social studies and science courses, at the high school.
“We are very close of achieving the goal of class sizes,” Blough said.
She said the reason for some of the larger class sizes is because teachers are limited in what they can teach because certificates and licenses for teachers are more focused on one specific area.
One other area Blough is proud of is improving on the state report card, going from a D to a C overall.
“We are getting there,” Blough said. “We are still not where we want to be.”
When it comes to developing an enrollment plan, Blough said, there are many variables and the district can’t just plug in open enrollment students in gaps where resident students leave.
The recently approved plan shows for the 2020-21 school year, a reduction of 40 open enrolled students, zero for 2021-22, 41 for 2022-23 and 27 for 2023-24.
“We have no idea who will unenroll and go elsewhere,” Blough said.
The plan also shows a reduction of 13 teachers over five years. This school year the district didn't have any reductions in force.
Blough said evaluating open enrollment and enrollment in general is a year-to-year process.
“The trend has been decreasing enrollment regardless of what we do,” Blough said.
Concerns are increasing that the district could lose state guarantee funding if the district were to lose 5 percent of its resident students.
“I am concerned we may get to that,” Blough said. “Many districts are seeing declines in enrollment, but to what extent?”
She said the district is doing every step they can to keep resident students in the district.
“It is difficult to compete,” Blough said. “Especially since we don’t have money to add programs.”
Coventry does have great successful athletic teams along with plenty of extra circular activities, Blough said. This year, the district also launched a greenhouse at Coventry Middle School, which officials are proud of.
Voters in November soundly defeated a 1 percent earned income tax levy by 895 votes. Now the district will ask voters to renew a property tax first approved in 2010.
The school board and state commission recently approved to move the issue to the March 17 ballot. Blough said passage of the renewal is critical otherwise the district would face drastic cuts. She said the district’s revenue is flat and expenses are still increasing.
Passing a renewal levy is normally an easy task for school districts, but not for Coventry, which has failed renewal levies in the past.
If the renewal were defeated in March, voters could try to approve it again in August or November. Blough, however, said passing it in March is the only opportunity to avoid cuts. She said before the March vote, she will be developing a list of $1.3 million in cuts, which she warned would be devastating.
The district plans to inform voters better for the renewal levy, something officials believe they dropped the ball regarding the failed income tax levy.
“Limited information got out and it was a very last minute idea,” Blough said.
What comes next
In the fall of 2020, Blough said the district will conduct a facilities study with someone who has an outside perspective. She said the district doesn’t want to pay a lot for the study but wants an unbiased perspective to present the options.
“What can we accomplish with our current footprint?” Blough said.
One possibility could be putting an addition onto the middle school, but Blough has questions about how long that would take and whether the cost would be reasonable.
In 2018, Board Member Josh Hostetler presented a plan to sell the elementary school in either 2022 or 2023 and move those students to the middle school. His plan showed the middle school undergoing a renovation and the administration offices could also be moved there. The middle school would then house grades K through 7, with eighth-graders being moved to the high school.
The plan was met with concerns from parents about a wide range of grades being grouped in one building.
Blough said it would not be ideal for the district to go down to two buildings, with kindergarten through eighth grade being in the same building. She said a K-8 facility has to be designed to accommodate that set up, which the middle school is not.
"The cost savings would not outweigh the negative impact the students would go through if we went to two facilities," Blough said.
Determining the future of the facilities could also play into open enrollment and help guide the district on how many students it wants to accept.
"We don't want to have three schools that are half-full," Blough said.
Currently, the district's central administration's offices are split, which Blough says isn’t ideal. Most of the offices are at the elementary school, but the treasurer's office is at the middle school. The district is also facing storage issues.
Blough would also like to also see better use of space for students so they have open spaces where they can work together.