To open enroll or not open enroll? That’s a question districts in Ohio have faced when forced to consider their bottom lines.
Some districts elect to allow students from other districts to shore up their student population and bring in more money. Others elect not to for other reasons, such as increased numbers of students attending within their boundaries.
If a district permits open enrollment, it means that students from other districts may apply to attend school in that district.
Cuyahoga Falls City Schools this year accepted nearly 600 of the district’s 4,600 students from other school districts, according to Superintendent Todd Nichols.
The top six districts where those students come from are Stow-Munroe Falls, Woodridge, Tallmadge, Green and Springfield. About 31 percent of students who open enroll are former residents who wish to stay with the district, Nichols said in a presentation earlier this year.
But more than 880 outside students have applied to attend Cuyahoga Falls schools, Nichols said.
"Because we manage the program to fill empty seats and not materially increase expenditures, nearly 35 percent of applications are turned down," he said.
For Cuyahoga Falls, it’s a matter of making ends meet.
This year, 598 students left, with 375 of them going to other districts through open enrollment. Others left for community schools or other programs. The departures cost the district $4.3 million.
The district was able to recoup nearly $3.5 million through students open enrolling into the district.
For Stow-Munroe Falls City Schools, open enrollment resulted in net revenue of $1.58 million last year, according to school officials.
The district currently has about 385 students out of around 5,200 attending through open enrollment, but the number of students tends to fluctuate through the school year. This includes 38 inter-district students participating in the district’s Bulldog Online Academy. Students come from as far as Massillon, Hartville, Cleveland and Deerfield.
According to Jeff Hostetler, treasurer for the Tallmadge City Schools, the district lost nearly $1.1 million last year due to open enrollment. The district does not allow non-residents to attend school through open enrollment.
"Over a million dollars is going out the door with students leaving the district," Hostetler said.
Hostetler said that the way schools are funded by the state results in another disadvantage. The state calculated that it costs about $6,020 to educate a child.
"How they got that? I don’t know," Hostetler said. "There’s no actual basis on what it costs to educate a child. It’s a convoluted mess."
Of the $6,020 the state has calculated, the district gets $2,546 per student, Hostetler said.
"A district’s state share index is affected when the property values get adjusted, resulting in a lesser state share percentage and the loss of state funding," Hostetler said.
But if a student chooses to leave a school district, the district will lose $6,020, Hostetler said.
"Even though we aren’t getting that [the $6,020], this is what leaves the district," he said. "It can be the most frustrating aspect. I wouldn’t have such an issue if it was just the $2,546 that left."
The funding per child can fluctuate, depending on the school district.
Tom Morehouse, Woodridge Local Schools treasurer, said his district gets around $900 per student attending school.
"Should a child then choose to open enroll into another school district, $6,020 is deducted from us and then goes to that other school district," Morehouse said. "Therefore, we receive the $900, then $6,020 is taken away from us. Should a child choose to open enroll into Woodridge, we do not receive the initial $900. We do however receive the $6,020."
The Woodridge Local Schools accepts students through open enrollment.
"We have 204 kids coming in and 101 kids going out," said Superintendent Walter Davis. "We are to the plus in revenue from open enrollment by $592,228."
Students who open enroll to Woodridge come from nearby Akron and Cuyahoga Falls, and from as far as Brecksville-Broadview Heights and North Royalton, Davis said.
Two other districts that do not allow open enrollment include the Nordonia Hills City Schools and Hudson City Schools.
"Inter-district open enrollment often brings with it many more concerns than the funding justifies," said Joe Clark, superintendent of the Nordonia Hills City Schools.
"For example, it is not legal to prevent kids who have discipline or attendance problems from open enrolling. I have limited experience with open enrollment. Typically open enrollment attracts students from underperforming districts."
Sheryl Sheatzley, manager of communications and alumni outreach, said Hudson City Schools serves its students best by restricting enrollment to residents.
"I think the biggest reason is keeping up with enrollment, class size and programs in a way that best serves the families who are residents in the school district," Sheatzley said.
Reporter April Helms can be reached at 330-541-9423, email@example.com, or @AprilKHelms_RPC