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Tigard-Tualatin opens up spots for enrollment

Students in and out of district have ability to transfer

Looking to transfer to a new school? The Tigard-Tualatin School District is expected to open up 97 spots this spring for students under new open enrollment laws.

At Monday’s School Board meeting, the district proposed opening the slots across the district for students wishing to transfer to a new school. About half of the slots would be split between Tualatin High School, Bridgeport Elementary and the district’s fledgling online school, the Tigard-Tualatin Online Academy.

“What we tried to do is be conservative with our numbers so that we won’t be harming any other districts,” said Susan Stark Haydon, school district spokeswoman. “There are not enough spots to harm any other district, but it will still allow for some options for kids.”

The state’s open enrollment laws are meant to give students more freedom to more easily transfer to other school districts.

Before the law passed in 2011, students wishing to transfer to a new school district needed permission from their home district. The state allocates funding for schools on a per-student basis, so transferring students take funding away from home districts when they leave.

Under the new open enrollment laws, students can transfer to school districts without their home district’s permission, though incoming school districts can say how many students they will accept, and which schools those students can attend.

‘Look at the whole district’

This is the third year the district has opened itself up to new students under the new laws.

In the past, Tigard-Tualatin has had agreements with neighboring Sherwood, Beaverton and Hillsboro to not accept students from those districts, and vice versa, as a way to maintain as much funding for local districts as possible.

Those agreements come to an end this year with new legislation that prevents the districts from making side arrangements, as they do not meet the intent of the law. Now, any Tigard-Tualatin students will be able to transfer to neighboring schools, as long as those schools have open slots.

The district doesn’t have to open up any spaces under the law, but Stark Haydon said Tigard-Tualatin had already received calls from parents outside the district about transferring their students into schools.

Most district transfers involve students who moved out of the district, but want to continue attending schools here, or Tigard-Tualatin teachers, who live in another district and want their children to attend Tigard-Tualatin schools, Stark Haydon said.

“I think that’s the biggest vote of confidence you can have,” Stark Haydon said.

The district will likely not open any slots at Tigard High School, Stark Haydon said, in order to keep it and Tualatin High to a similar size.

“We have to look at the whole district,” Stark Haydon said. “We don’t want something to happen where you have one giant high school that is over-enrolled, and then Tualatin is under-enrolled. We don’t want to be in a situation where we are cannibalizing our own schools.”

Enrollment set in March

Stark Haydon called the 97 openings a conservative number, in order to maintain healthy relations between neighboring districts.

“We set numbers that won’t hurt them,” she said. “With 10 spots at schools, that’s not going to hurt any district to take 10 kids. Nobody really wants to take everybody else’s kids.”

It’s difficult to know how many students the district will lose or gain this year under open enrollment. Because of the district’s agreement with Sherwood, Beaverton and Hillsboro, most of the 48 students the district lost last year went to West Linn-Wilsonville and Lake Oswego school districts.

That could change this year.

“It is hard to know if there will be a demand to those districts for our schools,” Stark Haydon said.

New open enrollment legislation passed last year, House Bill 2747, will add an additional wrinkle to the district’s enrollment plans, said Superintendent Ernie Brown.

“There are multiple laws that are governing inter-district transfers,” he said. “Making sure we are taking a conservative approach and looking at opening up spots where we have some need, while not creating a situation where there is an unintended consequence, is important, like an imbalance in our school size that would impact our ability to deliver programs, which could happen if staffing has to shift when one high school or middle school gets larger than another.”

The laws have been met with some resistence by Tigard-Tualatin School Board members, who said the new rules addressed issues that really didn’t exist.

“It’s like a sledgehammer coming in,” said School Board member Jill Zurschmeide. “It makes everything more destabilized, more unsure about what to do. As if funding isn’t unstable enough, you have to throw in these numbers to make it even more unstable.”

Zurschmeide said the legislation puts districts in an awkward position.

“We have to find a balance to make sure that the spirit of the law is working, which is not a bad thing,” Zurschmeide said. “But we also need to maintain the integrity of our schools. The idea of community schools is a really good idea, and this fundamentally destabilizes that.”

The School Board will make a final decision about enrollment numbers before March 1. Students can then apply for the open seats throughout March.

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