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More students could mean more money

WL-WV board weighs option of accepting nonresident students at its schools

Over the last month, the West Linn-Wilsonville School District fielded nearly 100 phone calls from nonresident families interested in attending school in the district. West Linn High School Principal Lou Bailey said most of the calls to his office have come from families in Oregon City or Canby.

Only five or six calls have been from families wanting to leave the district, said Tara DuBois, administrative assistant to the superintendent. There is possibly some overlap from the district's currently enrolled nonresidents wanting to ensure their spot, but most of those were fresh calls, she said.

School board members weighed this and other new information on Monday in preparation for its decision about whether or not to participate in this fall's open enrollment law.

Currently, if students want to attend another district, they must obtain the permission from their resident district or pay tuition. Under a new law passed this spring, the state would transfer the funding to the student's new district without needing a release from the home district.

The new rules apply within a specific window. Students must seek consent of the new district for the transfer by April 1. Then, school districts must, in turn, notify the students' old districts of the transfer by May 1.

School districts could choose to set a specific number of open slots at each of its schools, at specific grade levels or even open to certain geographic areas. Because of anti-discrimination laws, the school district could not select applications based on merit. A lottery system would be established in the case that there are more students seeking enrollment than there are slots.

School districts can decide whether or not to participate in open enrollment. Some districts think they can attract more students and are eager to bolster funding, while others are treading lightly, wary that they could just lose students and bleed more funding in their already constrained budgets.

So far, the Beaverton School District has agreed to open enrollment for elementary and middle school students, while Estacada is remaining closed.

'Once a district opens, it puts pressure on others to open. If a neighbor opens and we don't, we have the risk of our students leaving to open districts,' Superintendent Bill Rhoades said.

'There are a lot of different scenarios playing out across the state. There are some districts who have declining enrollment, and they believe they can stop their bleeding by opening up. ... Some districts have very large class sizes, and they find themselves not in a position to hire new teachers, so they're struggling with opening,' he said.

Currently, the WL-WV district has 82 nonresidents in its schools, most of whom have transferred at the high school level. Another 23 students applied but were either denied a release from their home district or withdrew from the process. Only one student is paying tuition this year.

At the same time, 24 students who formerly attended school in the district were released to join another school district this year, while another 24 transfer requests from WL-WV students were either denied by the district, or the students withdrew from the process.

This number of transfers both in and out of the district has been fairly consistent over the last four school years.

There are also 155 students from WL-WV who attend Oregon Connections Academy, an online charter school operated from Scio, Ore.

There are a number of nuances that were discussed on Monday, including language immersion, athletics and special education.

Language immersion

The school district could open enrollment for its new language immersion kindergarten classrooms at Trillium Creek Primary School in West Linn and Lowrie Primary School in Wilsonville.

So far, both classrooms already have about 20 applications, and four families have put in out-of-district requests. District officials expected more applications from residents after Monday's language immersion parent meeting, but the number of applicants at the meeting was not available at press time.

The number of slots that might be available to out-of-district families should be known after Jan. 31, as the resident applications are due on that date. If the program has more applications than slots, then it will hold a lottery for its residents.

Board member Kristen Keswick asked if more classrooms could be opened up if there is a demand for it. Superintendent Bill Rhoades said that space would become an issue and that the staff hasn't thought about finding any more classroom space for the program right now.

Athletics and activities

One hang-up for athletes wanting to change districts is a rule set by the Oregon School Activities Association (OSAA) that prohibits transfer students from participating until after they have been a student in their new district for at least one year.

'If people aren't paying close attention, there is the potential for folks to get surprised,' Rhoades said.

The rule applies to all competitive activities, including dance, cheer, band, choir and speech.

OSAA does have an exception process in place, in which a student who is requesting a transfer could seek the review of a league committee in extenuating circumstances.

Special education

Knowing how many applicants could be special education students is a wild card. One thing that is known is that special education parents often shop around, said Ken Welch, director of student services.

Additionally, because of special education law, if a student's individual education plan has a requirement for transportation from his or her home, then the school district would be responsible for paying for transportation - no matter where he or she may live. So, if a Beaverton student was accepted, for example, the district could incur a hefty bill.

Also, although special education students are state funded at around $12,000 each, some districts end up supplementing the programs with other funding. The cost of special services can vary widely depending on each student's needs.