The Canal Winchester Times

Open enrollment

School district sees new policy as budget-booster

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The Canal Winchester Local School District will allow up to 75 students from outside its borders to attend classes next year through an open enrollment policy approved April 15.

The vote was 4-1, with board Vice President Bob Toledo dissenting because he said residents needed more information.

Open enrollment is one way to bring additional revenue to a district that has made significant cuts and is still struggling with a tight budget, according to Superintendent Jim Sotlar.

Because the state budget is still in flux, board members said it's difficult to pin down how much the district could receive for each student accepted under open enrollment. The total per-pupil allotment from the state this year is $5,700 and that is unchanged in a budget proposal from Ohio House Republicans. Gov. John Kasich's budget plan cuts that amount, but would still allow at least $5,000 to follow each student.

Sotlar said open enrollment could bring in more than $200,000 annually.

"One of the things that we have to look at from a school point of view is how can we increase our revenue without increasing our expenditures and be good stewards of taxpayers' money?" he said.

The open enrollment plan approved by the school board would give first preference to the children of district employees. Currently, about 50 such students attend Canal Winchester schools for free as part of a negotiated agreement. Next in line would be previously enrolled students and then new students.

The district will not provide transportation services to open enrollment students.

Class sizes will be monitored so there won't be a need to hire additional teachers. Students with disciplinary problems and those requiring special programs that would cost the district additional money could be excluded from the open door policy.

Canal Winchester resident Amy McKinley agreed that the students of employees should be allowed to enroll in the district, but she objected to the open enrollment policy.

"The only benefit that I became aware of is an economic benefit to the district," McKinley said. "Common sense for me would dictate that $250,000 is a drop in a bucket to this district."

While the district's operating budget is more than $33 million, Treasurer Joyce Boyer said the estimate of income from the open enrollment policy would cover the salaries and benefits of about three teachers in the district each year.

"I sat on this board when we cut 50 staff members. If we could have done anything to save three, we would have done it," board member Debra Waites said. "Those are lives we shattered. We had no choice financially."

McKinley also objected to allowing "outsiders" to come into the district who do not pay Canal Winchester property taxes or income taxes.

"They are not paying the taxes. At the end of the day, they are not going to care about the community the way I do," McKinley said.

Phil Ruddell also expressed concern about what the policy could mean when the district asks voters to renew or replace the existing emergency levy, which expires Dec. 31, 2014.

"People look for reasons not to vote for levies. This could have a negative effect," he said.

Waites said she doesn't believe the open enrollment policy would have a negative impact on a levy request.

"I have also heard 'why would we vote for the levy if you had an opportunity to bring in a quarter of a million and you did not do so?' " she said.

Charlie Boss of The Columbus Dispatch contributed to this story.

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