Menomonee Falls creates 52 Open Enrollment seats
Nonresident students role in upcoming budgets debated
Menomonee Falls — A decision on how many new seats would be made available to nonresident students sparked a brief discussion about class sizes, scheduling and programs as the Menomonee Falls School Board met Monday.
On the heels of tentative deliberations earlier this month, the board voted unanimously in favor of creating 52 Open Enrollment seats in the 2014-15 school year. With the application process beginning next month, board members were pressed to make a decision this week.
All of the Open Enrollment seats are being created at the elementary level. Eleven spots are available in 5-year-old kindergarten; 21 in first grade, 10 in second grade and 10 in third grade.
Menomonee Falls officials are not planning to add any new Chapter 220 seats for the 2014-15 school year, based on the board's decision Monday. Director of Pupil Services Kathy Zarling said the district's minority population has been increasing in recent years — particularly at the elementary level, where the district has been creating spaces for nonresident students.
While Open Enrollment and Chapter 220 allow students to attend districts outside their communities, there are key distinctions between the two programs.
The statewide Open Enrollment program is enforced through state statutes and calls on interested families to go through an application process each February. District officials select students through a random lottery system after setting a number of available seats.
Chapter 220, created in the mid-1970s, was aimed at desegregating suburban schools through an arrangement between Milwaukee Public Schools and surrounding districts.
During the 2013-14 school year, 137 of Menomonee Falls' 345 nonresident students attend through Chapter 220, according to district documents. Zarling said she estimates 10 percent of the district's population will be nonresident students in the 2014-15 school year.
Districts across the state receive funding from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction for each student receiving services. The funding formula varies, depending whether the student is a resident of the district or attending through one of the nonresident programs.
From a budgetary standpoint, Menomonee Falls stands to gain income by making Open Enrollment seats available. Before making their final decision, the board briefly debated how the district's budget would be impacted without any new Open Enrollment seats.
On the flip side, districts at times need to use extra resources to help get nonresident students up to speed on curriculum.
"We always want to make sure we're being thoughtful as we're getting into this," Superintendent Pat Greco said.
Had the new Open Enrollment seats not been offered, a range of options — including cutting programs at Menomonee Falls High School and splitting grade-level classes — were discussed as possibilities to mitigate budgetary shortfalls in the future.
None of the scenarios are being discussed at the moment, but could be further analyzed down the road as budget deliberations take place for 2014-15 and beyond.
"We'd like to see other options, rather than just chopping at the high school," School Board President Faith VanderHorst said.
Moving forward, School Board member Ron Bertieri suggested the debate between nonresident enrollment and budget cuts take place earlier.
"A (decision) should be made earlier in the school year," Bertieri said.
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