Fewer kids, fewer dollars

WARREN – City schools have been losing an increasing number of students through open enrollment over the last three years.

Sixty-six students transferred out of Warren to other districts between the 2011-12 school year and Oct. 2013. Based on the state’s per student contribution of $5,745.95, the estimated loss in state funding for the district will be $379,232.70.

Warren Superintendent Michael Notar said he does not believe people are using open enrollment to get their children away from violence that has been happening in the city in recent months.

“People who are concerned about it would not transfer their students because they still would live in the neighborhoods,” Notar said. “Those who are concerned about what is happening outside of our school buildings would move because their children otherwise still will have to walk the area.

“Since 2010, we’ve noticed that the student population at Jefferson K-8 school, which is on the city’s southwest side, has decreased by about 100 students,” Notar said. “Their parents are moving out of the city.

“When parents request to have their children transferred, we do not require them to provide a reason for the transfer,” Notar said. “We lose between 22 to 25 students a year through open enrollment.”

The majority of his district’s students that leave through open enrollment rules to an adjacent school district transfer to either LaBrae and Howland school districts.

“We don’t lose a high number in any particular grades,” Notar said. “In LaBrae, for example, the majority of the 168 students that transferred were in the eighth grade. Outside of those students, they were distributed pretty evenly between the other grades.”

Another 117 students transferred to Howland. The remaining 142 of the 427 students the district lost went to other area school districts.

Howland Superintendent John Sheets said his school district has 85 students from the Warren schools. The district, however, also has lost 56 students to Warren.

“About one-third of our students transfer to Warren because the district has all-day kindergarten and we do not,” Sheets said.

Earlier this month, Howland voters rejected a levy proposal that would have provided funding for all-day kindergarten.

Sheets said open enrollment has been a financial benefit for his district. Howland gained an additional $102,727.41 because it had 18 more students that transferred into the district than moved out. A total 163 came in while 145 transferred to attend other schools.

“It (open enrollment) has not been the financial windfall as it was first believed it would be, but the money we have received has helped us maximize our levy money,” Sheets said.

Warren City Schools are trying to slow its student losses by starting an online school program for students who prefer to do their school work in nontraditional settings but want to graduate from Warren Schools.

Notar described the school district had been losing an estimated 700 students a year to charter, community and online schools when he returned to the district as its business manager just over thee years ago. That does not include the open enrollment transfers.

“There are many reasons why students may decide not to finish in our buildings,” Notar said. “Some students simply do not thrive in traditional classroom settings, others face issues outside of the schools that affect their school work, while others may leave because of discipline problems.”

By starting its own online program, the district is giving students opportunities to earn their diplomas while remaining in the school district.

“So long as they were not given an expulsion from the district, they are able to participate in all school-related extra-curriculum programs, including sports, robotics, clubs and other school activities,” Notar said. “We’ve already had 35 students sign up for the online program.

“Right now we are at about 100 kids that we lose through open enrollment or charter or online schools. Over the next few years, we are projecting to lose an average of 25 students per year through open enrollment transfers,” Notar said. “That may not seem a lot of students, but when you multiply the financial loss of $5,745.95 per student, it will average $143,648.75 per year.”

There are eight online curriculum school programs that parents can choose from outside of Warren City Schools.

“The creation of charter and community school districts, online schools and providing students the opportunity to transfer through open enrollment are combining to encourage all public school districts to do the best they can with the resources they have,” Notar said. “I look at it from the perspective of, if we’re doing what we are supposed to be doing in the district by providing a great education, having great programs, then the kids will not leave the school district,” he explained.

“We eventually would like to have our own teachers and online program,” Notar said. “As participation grows, we will start to adjust the program’s needs.”

Austintown Superintendent Vince Colaluca said his district began its online school about five years ago.

“We were losing students to other online and charter schools,” Colaluca said. “We researched it for about a year and then began the program.”

Although Austintown’s is an online program it is very much based out of the district. Its teachers and administrators operate it. There are labs in each of the schools that students can go to to do work and they can get direct help from district teachers.”

“Our online program has grown every year,” Colaluca said. “We now have about 150 students participating in it.”

Because everything is self-contained in the district, Colaluca said the district keeps all of the funds provided by the state for its students.

“We just went a different path,” Colaluca said.