By Susan Tebben
The South Range Local School District is poring over 70 open- enrollment applications, hoping to bring in new students to help the district keep class sizes up and survive state budget cuts.
On March 28, the district closed the application period for kindergarten through sixth-grade open enrollment. That call was open only to residents of districts adjacent to South Range: Columbiana, Boardman, Canfield, Crestview, Leetonia, Salem, Springfield, West Branch and Western Reserve.
“We weren’t sure how the K-6 adjacent would work,” said South Range Superintendent Dennis Dunham.
The district decided to go with K-6 because that was simply where the district had room for more students. High school numbers are in the hundreds, but elementary and middle school class sizes range from the 60s to the 80s of the 1,240 students in the district. The school district receives a base rate of $5,732 per student in funding, but officials are bracing for a new state budget, in which Gov. John Kasich has dropped funding per pupil to $5,000, according to initial proposals.
Because of the wait to hear about the biennial budget, Jim Phillips, South Range district treasurer and chief financial officer, is still waiting to see the significance of open enrollment in the district’s budget.
Phillips also made the case for the school district Wednesday when he testified in front of the Ohio House Finance Committee about reducing the number of teachers and staff because of the budget cuts by the state. He said $2.5 million of the South Range funds have been lost to charter and community schools and other schools with open enrollment around them.
“With kids being able to leave our district and with budget cuts, our hand has been forced to go to open enrollment,” Phillips said.
The district is facing an $850,000 deficit for fiscal year 2014, which Dunham and Phillips hoped would be eliminated with open enrollment without asking for new operating levies.
Open enrollment, at this point, will help the district break even — but it’s up in the air as to how much it will help.
“If we have 70 kids enrolled [because of open enrollment], that would close a little less than half of the deficit we have,” Phillips said.
But South Range is just another school district that has joined the open enrollment race. Other schools districts in Mahoning County have also done it — some to heavy criticism — including Austintown and Poland.
The only school districts in the area without open enrollment are Canfield, Boardman and Springfield. All public school districts in Trumbull and Columbiana counties have some form of open enrollment.
Students who applied for South Range should find out within the next week whether they are accepted in the district, Dunham said.
The district also has been consolidating job descriptions for employees and not replacing positions left vacant by retirements or other reasons.
“We’re doing a lot of things to do more with less,” Phillips said.