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Franklin to move Open Enrollment students to solve overcrowding

Feb. 4, 2014

Franklin — To address overcapacity at Robinwood Elementary School — and future overcrowding predicted at Pleasant View Elementary — the School Board has considered three options:

· Plan A: Do nothing and allow Robinwood to remain at 108 percent capacity and Pleasant View at 95 percent.

· Plan B: Move a total of 56 Open Enrollment and district exception students from both schools to another elementary school.

· Plan C: Adjust school boundaries to move 132 of the district's elementary students, and place most of them in Ben Franklin Elementary, which is only at 75 percent capacity.

Concluding a heated discussion about the role of Open Enrollment students in the district, the Franklin School Board approved Plan B on Jan. 29.

Open Enrollment is a state-mandated program that allows children to attend a school district they do not live in, if that district has space available for them. A district exception student is a student who lives within the district but attends a school other than their neighborhood school.

Robinwood's overcapacity was due, in part, to the school's fifth-grade class of 102 students, who had accumulated through the grade levels to form a "bubble" that formed an imbalanced enrollment, distrct Data Coordinator Shauna Fitzke said.

Due to the overcapacity, Robinwood has had to divide the gymnasium into two sections, remove its computer lab and reduce an art room to a mobile "art on a cart" setup.

"(Plan B) might be able to reduce a (fifth-grade) section in Robinwood, but that leaves the classroom sizes very large and with very limited room for additional students," Fitzke said. "Assuming that we have no growth, we might be OK for the next two years; but according to our (research), we know that that's not necessarily the case. ... By moving the school boundary (in Plan C) we are able to shift that (enrollment) more evenly and allow for additional growth at each of the school boundary areas."

Plan A

School administrators recommended implementing Plan C as a long-term solution to the problem, but several board members felt the transfer of 132 students was too radical.

"I've heard from a lot of parents that their children are thriving at Robinwood," board member Alan Aleksandrowicz said. "I haven't gotten a call from anyone saying (the overcapacity) is unacceptable. We've heard, 'Our children love it, they're thriving, and they're going through emotional trauma just talking about the move.'

"Why can't we go with Plan A?"

Superintendent Steve Patz said selecting Plan A would be irresponsible and unfair for Robinwood students, who currently are unable to enjoy the same programming as the district's other elementary schools.

Open Enrollment

Other board members echoed the sentiments of parents present at the board meeting: Why should the students who live within the district be the ones to be moved?

"I have a hard time having people who (are) careful about where they choose to live, careful about where they choose to buy their homes and (want) to go to this school ... be moved out to make room for people who aren't even residents to be placed there," board member Tim Nielson said.

Patz called the commonly held notion a "misconception" about how Open Enrollment works. Open Enrollment students can only be placed in schools that have enough room for them.

"If we have people that apply for Open Enrollment to our district and none of the other four (elementary schools) have space at that grade level, but Robinwood does, we have to put them in Robinwood," Patz said. "We don't have that choice. That's the law."

Allowing Open Enrollment students to attend with their siblings — a district preference — may have been "lenient to a fault" then, Nielson said.

"We try to keep them together at the same school when we can, but I think it may have helped contribute to some of the overcapacity," he said. "Maybe we need to look at where those Open Enrollment students go year to year. Maybe (an Open Enrollment) kindergartner goes to Pleasant View one year, but residents are being added that next year, and the (Open Enrollment student) can't go back to Pleasant View ... and has to go to another building — has that ever been done?"

"I don't think it's fair for any child in our district, whether they're Open Enrollment or residential, to be treated like a pawn," said Patz, who momentarily raised his voice to speak over dissenting chatter from parents in the audience. "Some of the people ... in this room criticize Open Enrollment students like they're second-class citizens — that's not right."

Nielson later clarified that a transfer of Open Enrollment students wouldn't happen very frequently, "but clearly adjustments need to be made ... with Open Enrollment students rather than with (residential students)."

In a 5-1 decision, the board agreed to implement Plan B for the following school year and to consider Plan C in the future if needed.

"The boundary adjustments are to balance the capacity of the entire district and I understand the emotion of the Robinwood families, but ... the statute (for Open Enrollment) says they are to be treated like any other student, and to suggest we may move Open Enrollment students every year — that saddens me," said board president Janet Evans, who provided the opposing vote. "That's going to turn away other Open Enrollment students from coming into our district."

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