Inter-district school enrollment
District's policy allows school system to have it both ways - to the detriment of some families.
Editorial Board, June 2009 to September 2009
- Suzanne Schlicht, general manager
- Brent Boyer, editor
- Mike Lawrence, city editor
- Tom Ross, reporter
- Grant Fenton, community representative
- Paul Strong, community representative
Contact the editorial board at (970) 871-4221 or email@example.com. Would you like to be a member of the board? Fill out a letter of interest now.
The Steamboat Springs School District should change its inter-district choice policy so that admitted students can attend Steamboat schools for the duration of their K-12 career. The existing policy, although clear in its language, punishes families and students while allowing the school district to have it both ways - collecting per-pupil revenue from the state when it works for the schools and then turning away those same students when it doesn't.
Of course, the issue is more complicated than just an edit of the inter-district choice policy, which last was revised in 2004. It also involves class-size ratios, classroom space and the interrelation of student enrollment in all three Routt County public school districts.
In short, Steamboat's inter-district choice policy states that students who don't live within the district's boundaries can apply to attend schools here if they meet certain criteria. Admission requests can be denied if there is a lack of space or teaching staff, for example. Out-of-district students have to reapply for admission every year, and "admission granted to one child in a family will not necessarily support enrollment of another child in the family."
There are many reasons families choose to apply for admission into other school districts. In Routt County, families often apply to send their children to Steamboat schools because the parents commute here for work. Such is the case for several of the families whose admission applications were denied this year. In total, the district told the families of five first-graders and two kindergartners that they would not be able to attend school in Steamboat for the 2009-10 academic year. At least one of the students who was turned away attended kindergarten at Soda Creek last year. Some of the families have one child who has been admitted for next year and a second child who hasn't.
We sympathize with the affected families and with the school district. In the district's defense, the existing policy is quite clear. But that doesn't mean the policy takes the right approach.
Colorado schools are funded on a per-pupil basis, meaning districts receive a certain amount of revenue for every student enrolled by Oct. 1. The more students enrolled, the more money the district receives. There's no doubt Steamboat's public school system has enjoyed the funding boost provided by out-of-district families who opt to have their children attend Steamboat schools instead of neighboring Hayden and South Routt schools. And each one of those children who transfers out of their home district similarly has a negative financial impact there.
Consistency - for the district and for local families - might be a better approach for the Steamboat Springs School District and its neighboring school systems. Once a student is admitted, allow him or her to attend school in Steamboat for the duration of the K-12 career. It's certainly not beneficial to young students to have them switch schools and learn new systems so soon after becoming comfortable with their last school. The district also could consider giving preference to admitting the siblings of existing district students.
Nevertheless, admitting new children to the school system could bump class sizes, an issue of significant importance to many local families. But in the case of the 2009-10 school year, there are five first-graders seeking admission to a district with seven first-grade classes. Superintendent Shalee Cunningham said the district has enough money in its budget to create an additional class, but it doesn't have the classroom space in either school. Should we be alarmed that one year after spending $30 million to build a new Soda Creek and a 12-classroom expansion to Strawberry Park Elementary School, we have no additional classroom space?
We agreed with the Steamboat Springs School Board in March when it left control of the class size policy to the superintendent. At the time, we said flexibility was needed to create the best overall educational environment for Steamboat students. The same can be applied here. Is the educational impact of adding five more first-graders to seven first-grade classes significant enough to turn away several local families and the tax dollars their children's enrollment brings to the district?
Cunningham, who has the final say on inter-district choice applications, said fall enrollment could change, creating space for the seven turned-away students and making the issue a moot point. But we think it's unlikely this same issue won't come up again for other families in future years. Examining and adjusting the policy now is worth the effort.