Herald and Journal, Jan. 21, 2002

A look at area open enrollment

By Lynda Jensen

See chart of area schools' open enrollment numbers (PDF)

Ever since Minnesota passed the first inter-district choice law in 1988, open enrollment appears to be gaining strength, year after year.

This trend is clearly reflected in area schools, where fluid student populations keep school districts guessing what kind of revenue to expect.

State aid amounts to about $5,288 for each student in grades 7-12, $4,068 for an elementary student, and $2,237 for a kindergarten student.

A review of area school districts' open enrollment figures shows HLWW loses a significantly larger number of students than many other districts do.

Of the 312 students who are open enrolled out of HLWW, 75 attend Dassel-Cokato, 66 go to Watertown-Mayer, 59 to Lester Prairie, 46 to Buffalo, 26 to Maple Lake, and 19 to Delano.

A few each go to other nearby schools such as Annandale, Rockford, and Glencoe-Silver Lake. Others are spread out as far as Austin and Grand Rapids. The far away situations often involve a student living with a relative, a school district spokesperson said.

Most of these students leaving HLWW are attending middle schools, Hoheisel noted. Of those going to Dassel-Cokato, about 22 of them are seniors.

For incoming students, HLWW attracts seven from Lester Prairie, six from Buffalo, six from D-C, five from Maple Lake, three from GSL, two from Hutchinson, and one each from Annandale, Chaska, Waconia, and Osseo.

For Lester Prairie, slightly more students are coming in than going out, said Carol Klaustermeier of the Lester Prairie School District. Sixty-seven students are open enrolled into Lester Prairie, with 55 going out to other schools, she said.

Most of the students coming in are elementary-aged students that come from Winsted, she said. Those that are outgoing appear to be attracted to Glencoe-Silver Lake's English as a Second Language class offering, she said.

This is consistent with the report from Glencoe-Silver Lake, where the school does attract students from the English as a Second Language classes, said Becky Dahl of GSL.

Glencoe-Silver Lake loses 28 students to Norwood Young America, and 24 to Hutchinson, among other districts, Dahl said. Incoming students are usually from McLeod West and Lester Prairie, she said.

Other schools experience the same fluid movement. "They come in from the west and go out east," commented Anita Underberg of the Buffalo School District.

Why students are attracted to Buffalo is unknown, although the boundaries for the school district are a little odd and the school is in such close proximity to the metro area, said Beth Broll of the Buffalo School District.

Most students attracted to Buffalo are from Maple Lake, Broll said. Many outgoing students end up at Osseo, she said.

Although it is hard to gauge specific reasons why students leave, the fact that Buffalo is so close to the metro area probably has something to do with it, she said. "They (parents) think with bigger districts that there's more opportunities," she said.

Waconia appears to be in the same situation as Buffalo, losing students to the east, and gaining them on the west side, said Jo Gothmann of the Waconia School District.

Students are drawn from Norwood Young America, she said. Chaska on the east side of the district's borders picks up open enrolled students from Waconia, she said.

Delano gains most of its students from Rockford, and loses them to Orono, noted Delano Business Manager Jim Thorpe.

Thorpe indicated it was difficult to tell why students go where they do, although he indicated that parents' work locations and curriculum have something to do with it.

Day care also seems to play a part in the reasons for school choice as well, it was noted by some schools.

Dassel-Cokato attracts students mostly from Litchfield, although Howard Lake is a close second, D-C Superintendent Craig Kay commented.

Open enrolled students do not take every penny of revenue with them, since there is a small amount that stays with the home district, Hoheisel said.

The amount levied for an excess levy referendum stays with the resident district, Hoheisel said. When voters pass a referendum, this money stays local, he said.

However, the state formula was changed in the last legislation session for school reimbursement, which means less money for HLWW, he said.

As a result, HLWW stands to lose about $55,000 more than before from open enrolled students, Hoheisel said.

After Minnesota took the first step toward open enrollment in the 1980s, 12 additional states enacted similar legislation (Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Utah, and Washington).

In general, the open enrollment laws allow parents to send their children to schools in any district in the state. Local boards of education cannot block students from leaving or entering a district unless the movement will upset desegregation guidelines or space for additional students is unavailable.

Most state funding does with the students to their new school districts.

Because of this, it is common for school districts to send buses into neighboring districts to pick up open enrolled students, depending on distance and the number of students involved.

Depending on individual situation, parents may provide the transportation themselves, especially if the student is going to a school near a parent's work site.

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