Liberty officials reconsider open enrollment to close shortfall
By Robert Guttersohn
In the weeks since approving a $1.2 million deficit-reduction plan Jan. 23, the Liberty Board of Education has discussed restarting open enrollment as a means of closing next year’s projected $700,000 budget shortfall.
By reopening its doors to students from outside the district, the district would re-enter the field of competition that has cost it large chunks of its budget.
Board of Education President Joe Nohra said the district must find some way to make up for the students lost, especially because it is surrounded by districts that have open enrollment.
“Our neighbors use the philosophy of robbing Peter to pay Paul,” Nohra said. “Shouldn’t we have that same philosophy?”
As of this year, the district has 281 students attending other schools — community, public and private. This has cost the district well over $1 million a year in state foundation money diverted to the other institutions.
Liberty school district has 81 students still enrolled in the district that entered before it closed open enrollment in the 2010 school year.
But it lost 134 students to open enrollment, creating a net loss of more than $300,000 in state foundation money for the district.
Nohra said the reason the district suspended open enrollment was because its classrooms were full. Now it has several openings, particularly in the lower grades.
When a school district activates open enrollment, it can either open its doors to districts geographically adjacent. or it can open it to the entire state. For each student, a district gains about $5,700 in state foundation money. The district can be selective as to how many students it has in each grade. It also can be selective based on student disciplinary issues, but it cannot make decisions based on race or the special needs of the student.
Liberty Superintendent Stan Watson said what’s key is placing the students in classrooms with open slots, avoiding having to increase staff due to the state-mandated maximum 25-1 student-teacher ratio for elementary classes.
But the challenge is drawing students to a school district that is in fiscal emergency and will be laying off 7.5 teachers and an additional nine positions before next year.
“The fiscal emergency doesn’t affect the quality of education” Nohra said, adding that the cuts had the least effect on education.
“What we need to continue to market is that we have quality teachers,” Watson said. “Just like any family, you don’t let yourself be defined by your financial situation. We can’t do that here.”