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District opens door to transfer students

It looks like more out-of-district students will be allowed into Tigard-Tualatin schools after all.

On Monday, the Tigard-Tualatin School Board reversed an earlier decision to let in only a handful of out-of-district students next year.

Under a new Oregon law, districts across the state have until today (Thursday) to set the number of incoming students they will allow to transfer to their district from other schools.

Board members voted earlier this month to keep the number of transfers small, saying that it wasn't fair to other districts to take students - and their accompanying tax dollars - from other districts.

But after West-Linn Wilsonville and Sherwood school districts voted to allow in larger numbers of out-of-district students, board members changed their minds, and said it would allow 81 students to transfer into the district, and would grandfather in 73 current transfer students, as a way to combat potential students leaving for other school districts.

Passed last year by the state Legislature, HB 3681 is meant to offer students more choice in what school district they wish to attend.

Districts can say how many transfer students they will accept under the new law, but have no say in how many students choose to transfer out.

Neighboring school districts have run the gamut in their decisions. Beaverton has said it will take in no new transfer students this year under the new law, while West Linn-Wilsonville announced last week that it would take in up to 225 students.

Superintendent Rob Saxton has opposed the law, saying that taking in students from other districts isn't fair. On Monday he reluctantly changed his tune, saying that not competing against nearby districts could harm Tigard-Tualatin.

'If, all of a sudden, we said we are not accepting any students under the new rules, it would be possible that if a district around us did take in students, we could be harmed because we could lose some students,' Saxton said. 'If we lost 20 students to Lake Oswego, 20 to West Linn-Wilsonville and 20 to Sherwood, that's 60 students. At $6,000 (in tax dollars) per students that is $360,000 that our budget is reduced. That's a full day of education in our district. That also represents 4.5 teaching positions. It's a real number.'

In the past, students needed a district's permission to transfer, but the new open enrollment law allows districts to choose how many students - and from what districts - the students come from each year.

The board approved opening 25 slots at Tualatin High School, 25 to the district's new Tigard-Tualatin Online Academy, 10 to Hazelbrook Middle School and seven slots each at Bridgeport, Byrom and Tualatin elementary schools.

There are also 73 inter-district students currently enrolled in the district. Those students will be grandfathered in.

The decision excludes students from Beaverton, Hillsboro or Forest Grove districts from transferring in.

Board member Jill Zurschmeide was the lone opposing vote in the decision, calling the new open enrollment rules 'a bad law' and said that the district should have stuck with its initial decision to let in only a handful of transfer students.

Board chair Maureen Wolf said it was a difficult decision to make, and compared it to looking into a crystal ball.

'I think we all felt good about the original motion that we passed it was the right thing to do,' she said.

In the end, she agreed that the district would need to allow more transfer students in, in order to stay competitive.

'The reality is that other districts have made decisions (about open enrollment) and we need to respond to that,' she said.



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