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Thousands opt for open enrollment

Few county schools allow open policy; Huber considering it after student drain increases.


Millions of dollars change hands among Dayton-area school districts each year because of open enrollment, a little-talked-about policy that allows more than 3,000 local students to attend public school tuition-free in communities other than the ones in which they live.

But it doesn’t affect communities equally because it’s up to each school district whether to open their doors to nonresident students. Statewide, more than 80 percent of school districts do so, but Montgomery County is different.

DATAView open enrollment data by: Number of students affected | Where the students are going

Only 5 of 16 districts here accept open enrollment students — Mad River, West Carrollton, Northridge, New Lebanon and Jefferson Twp. — and none are among the county’s most affluent, highest-performing schools. Huber Heights’ school board has a meeting this Monday to talk about the possibility of accepting open enrollment students in the future.

RELATED: Which Ohio school districts offer open enrollment?

Many of the students who choose open enrollment in the Dayton region are leaving struggling school districts to attend a neighboring district, or leaving larger districts for a smaller setting.

Mad River Schools is by far the biggest local gainer, with 720 of its roughly 3,900 students coming from outside the district — 563 of them from Dayton Public Schools. The financial implications are complicated, but the receiving district takes $6,000 in state funding from the sending district for each open-enrolled student. But that’s less than a district’s usual per-pupil spending.

“I don’t know that you would say you’re raiding other districts. To be honest, they have options now with charter schools and (private) school vouchers,” said Mad River Superintendent Chad Wyen, who called himself an advocate of school choice.

“We’re just another option that students and families have that affords them opportunities they may not have in their home district.”

Student perspective

Ras-Emmanuel Harrison is a senior at Stebbins High School in the Mad River district, but he lives in Dayton near Children’s Hospital. At different points growing up, Harrison attended both Huber Heights and Dayton schools.

As he prepared for high school, Harrison and his grandmother, Perrintha Merchant, considered several options. Dayton’s Belmont is the school he would have been assigned to, but they weighed Dayton’s Ponitz Career Center, the DECA charter school, Wayne in Huber Heights, and Stebbins.

“I needed to find the best school to fit my grandson. I wanted to keep his attention,” Merchant said. “I had to shop around. … You don’t just do something, you go and you experience it, you ask questions, you find out about the program.”

RELATED: Parents sift through increasing number of school choices

Harrison and Merchant both said they had some safety concerns in Dayton schools, with Harrison saying disruptions distracted him too often. Harrison — who has his eye on joining the Marines and getting a political science degree — said his first year at Stebbins wasn’t perfect, but he has adjusted well.

“It gives me a different environment to learn in,” Harrison said. “I get distracted easily in a regular classroom setting, and they gave me another option (starting junior year) where I can be on the computer all the time, but still have the teachers to help me when I need it. It’s helped me with my grades a lot.”

Merchant said Stebbins has been more like a family to her, but she stressed that everyone is different.

“Stebbins is an excellent school. But just because it’s a good school for your neighbor’s child, or whoever, it doesn’t mean it’s a good school for your child,” she said. “Shop around, sit and talk to that child and find out what they want out of life, not what you want.”

Harrison’s example may be common, but there are many other reasons students switch, including smaller schools, sports opportunities, specific academic programs, family reasons and more. There are students who leave Beavercreek for Xenia, or leave Centerville for West Carrollton.

School perspective

The nine largest school districts in the Dayton region do not accept open enrollment students from outside their geographic footprint. Among that group are Beavercreek and Fairborn, the only districts in Greene County that don’t do open enrollment, and Springboro and Lebanon, the only districts in Warren County not to do so.

Several of those districts said there’s no handshake agreements or conference guidelines on open enrollment.

Superintendent Tom Henderson said Centerville is doing well financially and academically, with stable enrollment, so there’s no push to change. Northmont Superintendent Tony Thomas said the focus of his school board has been “to serve the taxpayers that we represent,” rather than families from outside the community.

Kettering Superintendent Scott Inskeep has a unique perspective on open enrollment. His current district would likely attract applicants, but doesn’t offer it. But three years ago, he was running Reading Schools near Cincinnati, which did offer open enrollment, and he served on the state’s task force on the topic.

RELATED:School funding generally up in last state budget

Inskeep said the financial piece is hard to explain to residents, but revenues are the main driver of open enrollment on the school side, while it’s just another form of school choice on the family side.

He said the devil’s in the details of how a district sets it up, but he emphasized just how many details there are — from transportation (parents’ responsible), to sports (anger at a new kid taking a longtime resident’s spot), to serving needy populations (schools can’t exclude students with disabilities or other challenges), and even classism.

“I’m sure as revenues decrease, districts will look at it more and more,” he said. “I know in Kettering it isn’t about ‘those kids,’ whatever that means. It’s simply that with 7,300 or 7,400 of our own kids, we don’t have a necessity to open enroll.”


How open enrollment has affected area districts

DistrictCountyOpen Enrollment students coming inOpen enrollment students going out
Mad RiverMontgomery719.866.71
New LebanonMontgomery167.1510.31
NorthridgeMontgomery172.3419.83
West CarrolltonMontgomery123.9519.34
Jefferson TwpMontgomery24.2156.27
OakwoodMontgomery0.005.62
Brookville *Montgomery0.0025.15
Valley ViewMontgomery0.0034.89
CentervilleMontgomery0.0035.68
KetteringMontgomery0.0042.61
MiamisburgMontgomery0.0066.36
Vandalia-ButlerMontgomery0.0083.13
Trotwood-Madison *Montgomery0.0092.51
NorthmontMontgomery0.0092.80
Huber HeightsMontgomery0.00200.71
DaytonMontgomery0.00934.24
Yellow SpringsGreene205.8610.10
Cedar CliffGreene124.4928.56
GreeneviewGreene133.6955.41
BellbrookGreene42.0614.41
Fairborn #Greene0.000.00
Beavercreek *Greene0.0058.04
XeniaGreene40.42302.56
Milton-UnionMiami161.3653.65
Tipp CityMiami130.7835.63
NewtonMiami108.5738.87
CovingtonMiami91.3256.93
BradfordMiami65.0954.67
BethelMiami53.9052.43
Miami EastMiami124.78135.43
TroyMiami133.99200.80
PiquaMiami77.48148.44
Wayne LocalWarren102.2410.54
FranklinWarren160.2793.46
CarlisleWarren98.3162.17
SpringboroWarren0.0043.28
LebanonWarren0.0095.16

* - ODE data showed 0-2 students coming in, likely as a result of miscoding. District does not offer open enrollment.
# - Fairborn does not allow open enrollment in OR out, citing rules on Federal Impact Aid the district receives.
SOURCE: Ohio Department of Education; figures are not whole numbers because data includes partial-year students.


Huber to change?

Huber Heights schools may start open enrollment because the trickle of students leaving has started to grow. Treasurer Gina Helmick said Huber Heights lost 52 open enrollment students in 2008, but the number climbed to 171 last year, and 200 this year. That’s in addition to students who leave for charter schools.

Superintendent Sue Gunnell said she was shocked to learn how many districts statewide offer open enrollment. Her district is starting to research the reasons students leave, with plans for a concerted effort to entice them back.

“We are actually looking and exploring what options are out there, and is it time for us to actually start looking at (open enrollment) as a potential?” Gunnell said. “We’re just in the information gathering stage right now.”

Open enrollment will be one of the items up for discussion at Huber’s 5:30 p.m. school board meeting Monday at Studebaker Elementary. No votes are planned.

The school superintendents in Montgomery County are fairly close and they meet monthly. Gunnell said there’s no group decision not to do open enrollment, but she admits to a little angst over the 102 students who leave Huber Heights for her colleague Chad Wyen’s district in Mad River.

“I don’t know if it was part of the Montgomery County thing where nobody wanted to step on each other’s toes … but at some point you have to look at what’s going to be best for the district,” she said.

Complicated financially

Open enrollment more than doubled in Ohio from 2003 to 2013, from 33,000 students to 71,000. Gunnell said if Huber Heights does start open enrollment, it will do it slowly and carefully. That would follow the advice of a new report from State Auditor Dave Yost’s office, pointing out that depending how it’s done, open enrollment can boost a district, or hurt it.

Yost gave an example, based on classroom capacity in a school.

“Say the receiving district has a fifth-grade class that can take 25 kids, but they only have 21,” Yost said. “If you fill those seats (via open enrollment at $6,000 per student), it’s found money because you’re already paying for the heat, the lights, the teacher, the building. It’s all there, you just have these extra seats that aren’t filled.

“The problem comes in if you don’t have any limits on it,” Yost continued. “What ends up happening is you run out of those seats you’ve already paid for, and now you have to add an extra fifth-grade class and teacher. And that costs money.”

Of the four northern Ohio districts Yost’s office studied closely, two were making a profit off open enrollment and two were losing money. In the two most striking cases, one district was profiting by about $1 million per year, and one was subsidizing other districts’ students by $1 million.

Open enrollment schools aren’t allowed to cherry-pick high-performing students and athletes. But they can set numeric limits on how many students they’ll accept, based on maximum class sizes.

Yost said if done right, open enrollment can fill classrooms and provide funding that could pay for a new chemistry lab or arts program. But not everyone does it right.

“The key is to count costs,” he said. “Do the math and design this thing in a way that it’s going to help your district and not end up bleeding dollars.”


Where students have moved to and from

DistrictCountyDistrict they gain the most students fromDistrict they lose the most students to
Mad RiverMontgomeryDayton (563.1)MVCTC (1.45)
New LebanonMontgomeryTrotwood (57.41)Twin Valley (5.86)
NorthridgeMontgomeryDayton (134.12)Mad River (7.75)
West CarrolltonMontgomeryDayton (38.39)Mad River (3.77)
Jefferson TwpMontgomeryDayton (20.77)New Lebanon (32.10)
OakwoodMontgomeryNoneMVCTC (5.22)
Brookville *MontgomeryNoneTri-Co. North (16.15)
Valley ViewMontgomeryNoneCarlisle (12.00)
CentervilleMontgomeryNoneW.Carrollton (7.06)
KetteringMontgomeryNoneW.Carrollton (13.64)
MiamisburgMontgomeryNoneW.Carrollton (25.36)
Vandalia-ButlerMontgomeryNoneTipp City (36.31)
Trotwood-Madison *MontgomeryNoneNew Lebanon (57.41)
NorthmontMontgomeryNoneMilton-Union (56.23)
Huber HeightsMontgomeryNoneMad River (101.47)
DaytonMontgomeryNoneMad River (563.1)
Yellow SpringsGreeneXenia (59.82)Greenon (5.93)
Cedar CliffGreeneXenia (62.93)Yellow Springs (16.19)
GreeneviewGreeneXenia (85.15)Xenia (14.67)
BellbrookGreeneBeavercreek (11.39)Xenia (4.03)
Fairborn #GreeneNoneNone
Beavercreek *GreeneNoneMad River (15.12)
XeniaGreeneGreeneview (14.67)Greeneview (85.15)
Milton-UnionMiamiNorthmont (56.23)Newton (11.00)
Tipp CityMiamiTroy (49.51)Upper Valley (12.81)
NewtonMiamiTroy (37.74)Milton-Union (14.35)
CovingtonMiamiBradford (24.94)Russia (17.85)
BradfordMiamiGreenville (49.09)Covington (24.94)
BethelMiamiHuber Hts (34.98)Tecumseh (19.97)
Miami EastMiamiTroy (53.99)Troy (58.89)
TroyMiamiMiami East (58.89)Miami East (53.99)
PiquaMiamiSidney (21.64)Troy (34.30)
Wayne LocalWarrenXenia (29.42)Franklin (3.00)
FranklinWarrenMiddletown (70.08)Carlisle (44.51)
CarlisleWarrenFranklin (44.51)Franklin (32.91)
SpringboroWarrenNoneWayne Local (24.68)
LebanonWarrenNoneMason (17.99)

* - ODE data showed 0-2 students coming in, likely as a result of miscoding. District does not offer open enrollment.
# - Fairborn does not allow open enrollment in OR out, citing rules on Federal Impact Aid the district receives.
SOURCE: Ohio Department of Education; figures are not whole numbers because data includes partial-year students.


Losing, adding students

Dayton Public Schools loses by far the most students in the region to open enrollment, at 934 according to state data. DPS did not respond specifically to questions for this story, but school board President Adil Baguirov has complained about the drain on his district, and DPS leaders have been urging teachers, principals, parents and others who care about the district to recruit more students to stay.

RELATED:Dayton enrollment drop led to staff cut process

At a recent school board meeting where cuts were considered, many parents were critical of DPS, but others reaffirmed their support.

“When I tell my friends that I send my kids to Dayton Public, they sometimes look at me like I have two heads,” said Elizabeth Koproski, a school volunteer and mother of three gifted students. “And I stand loud and proud and say I send my kids to Dayton, and I have no qualms about that. So please (make decisions) to help me continue to stand loud and proud and say that my kids are getting a fabulous education.”

Mad River accepts 563 open enrollment students like Harrison from Dayton, in addition to students from Northridge, Beavercreek and other districts. Wyen said there are several reasons they come — from small, intimate schools, to the district’s two STEM-designated schools, to the career tech center within the high school.

He said some families like Mad River schools, but don’t love the housing stock within the older suburb, so they live elsewhere. Wyen said Mad River crafted its policy carefully and has seen open enrollment grow to replace a declining resident population.

“We have 720 open-enrolled, and that generates about $4.2 million,” Wyen said. “It allows for us to educate them appropriately and it also helps generate revenue for the district for us to support our schools, without having to go to our taxpayers for additional money. … We’re definitely better off because of this.”



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