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Community clashes over open enrollment at LOHS

Potential for open spots at Lake Oswego High sparks debate over equity between the city's north and south sides

Should the Lake Oswego School District allow students to attend Lake Oswego High School if they live within the boundaries for Lakeridge High or hail from other districts?

More than a dozen community members made their feelings known during Monday night’s school board meeting, a lively discussion that prompted board members to delay a decision on enrollment options until after they have a chance to talk with administrators and parent-led School Advisory Committees.

The board agreed to revisit the issue at a Feb. 23 meeting. A final open-enrollment policy for 2015-16 must be in place by March 1.

Many speakers at Monday night’s meeting said Lakeridge High’s student population is still smaller, despite efforts at achieving parity with Lake Oswego High. The school needs to be allowed to grow by being the sole LOSD high school that allows open enrollment and unlimited inter-district transfer students, they said.

Yet almost as many people spoke in favor either of offering students who want to come to Lake Oswego a chance to attend either high school or for there to be an effort to bridge what some characterized as a hostile division between north (LOHS) and south (Lakeridge).

“The district is now in the midst of significant change, but the imbalance issue is not resolved,” said Lake Oswego resident Pam Catlett. “There are decades of systemic, imbalanced decision-making that have not yet been corrected.”

Ed Hutson told the board that while he is new to Lake Oswego, he’s already seen how the open-enrollment process can pit one school against another. “It seems a little odd to me,” he said. “It’s not really the Lake Oswego I see. It seems very combative. To me, a family should be able to choose wherever they want to go. It’s as simple as that.”

LOHS football coach Steve Coury told the board he is proud to be a part of a great district, but he said it’s not fair that the high schools are treated differently when it comes to enrollment options and that they should be governed by the same policies. What also weighs on him is the north-south school schism.

“I just think the biggest problem we have, and you can almost feel it in here, is the division between the two,” he said. “I think that’s what we’ve got to work on more than anything else.”

Through inter-district transfers, students can apply to attend school in another district without paying tuition. If that application is denied by their current school, students have to pay tuition to shift to the other district. Open enrollment does not require approval of the resident district. If a district offers open enrollment, any student may apply, although students within the district are given first priority.

Those options brought 221 new students to the Lake Oswego School District for this school year. Because tuition and state revenue amounts are roughly equal at about $7,000 per student, the added students brought in an extra $1.5 million or so to the district for this school year, according to Stuart Ketzler, LOSD’s executive director of finance.  

In 2012-13, the district offered 28 open-enrollment slots at Lakeridge High School for freshmen only and an additional 20 slots at either high school for students who live within the city limits but not inside the school district’s boundaries. Last school year, LOSD had 150 open enrollment spots for new students from sixth to 10th grades, with the following caveats:

n Accept inter-district transfers into the district only at Lakeridge High;

n Accept tuition students at all secondary schools; and

n Allow open enrollment for ninth and 10th grades at Lakeridge High and all grades at Lakeridge Junior High, with no limit.

LO resident Tom Krueger said the district’s policy of allowing open enrollment and accepting all inter-district transfers at just one high school has been in place for only a year and should continue because it seems to be working.

“Numbers do matter, and I want to make sure that you all know that it is a compromise that will be felt year after year if this amendment happens,” Krueger said.

The enrollment gap between the high schools does seem to be shrinking.

On Oct. 1, 2013, Lakeridge High had 1,150 students to Lake Oswego High’s 1,314 — a difference of 164 students. A year later, attendance at both schools declined and so did the gap, with 1,132 students at Lakeridge and 1,289 at LOHS — a difference of 157 students.

Those numbers may be deceptive, though, since some cohorts of students are larger than others. Lake Oswego resident Mark Bachman said the district should keep population fluctuations in mind and renew the current school year’s enrollment options.

Unless the board is willing to address facility discrepancies and school population issues caused by where boundaries are drawn, “then approving this administration’s recommendation (to renew current enrollment options) is the only rational and data-driven response that can come tonight,” Bachman said.

Board member John Wendland suggested having unlimited inter-district transfers at all secondary schools, as well as 20 open-enrollment slots for freshmen and 10 for sophomores at Lake WENDLANDOswego High, with no slots at Lake Oswego Junior High. The board debated allowing open enrollment at LOHS but decreasing the number of slots, but decided to seek additonal input first from the community and school administrators.

“We figured out what I would call an error in our enrollment balancing policy,” Wendland said, “and that was that we didn’t figure out that we have a number of students who are in Lake Oswego and Lake Oswego Junior High School who were transfer students, open enrollment students, or tuition students. ... So, what we did is that we leaked students when they graduated. So, by shutting off the valve over here, you’re going to have attrition in our system.”

By Jillian Daley
503-636-1281, ext. 109
email: jdaley@lakeoswegoreview.com
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