By Megan Kelley
During their regularly scheduled meeting on Jan. 27, the Lake Orion Community Schools Board of Education discussed school of choice (SOC) authorization for the 2020-21 school year.
Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Rick Arnett, along with Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Heidi Mercer, presented the data regarding school of choice in the district during the current and previous school year.
Along with the presentation came a recommendation to authorize school of choice slots not to exceed ten percent of the building population for non-resident students where there is space available for the 2020-21 school year. This would include grades Kindergarten through eighth along with learning options.
While the data presented was pulled prior to this meeting on Jan. 18, Arnett was sure to point out that the numbers are often very fluid and change by the week.
“Keep in mind that enrollment is very fluid. We have a lot of move in and move out, weekly,” Arnett said. “When I talk enrollment and I talk schools of choice, we’re looking at a snapshot in time. Those numbers could fluctuate next week, they could have been different three weeks ago, they were definitely different at the time when we made our projections for what we could enroll to meet our guidelines of ten percent.”
As of Jan. 18 of this year, the districts K-12 resident student enrollment consisted of 6,034 students, district documents showed.
School of choice students within the Oakland ISD (Intermediate School District) and in contiguous district’s (districts that border the Oakland County ISD, i.e. Lapeer County and Wayne County) that make up the 105 and 105c categories consist of 534 students, or about 8.85 percent of the total district K-12 population.
Employee students that make up the Code -06 have K-12 population of just 111 students.
In total, K-12 enrollment, as of Jan. 18 was 6,679 students.
A pattern to note is the discrepancy in SOC enrollment between grade levels. While nearly every elementary building maintains enrollment close to 10 percent, the high school only has about 6 percent SOC enrollment. According to Arnett, this is because the district has only been offering SOC for seven years. Arnett anticipates that in the next three or so years SOC enrollment across all K-12 grade levels will start “hoovering right around that 10 percent range.”
District documents showed a projection of about 60 open SOC seats across K-12, 42 of which would be kindergarten seats. However, it is important to remember that the numbers presented may very well have changed since the data was last run on Jan. 18.
Due to the nature of the current situation, with several hundred students opting for Dragon Virtual this year, concerns were raised about the percentage cap on SOC enrollment.
Across the district, Dragon Virtual enrollment sits at 17.65 percent or 1,179 students.
“My concern with taking too many SOC student’s is I don’t want to use Lake Orion resident taxpayer money – bond money, sinking fund money, to create a set of buildings that are filled by students from other communities,” Treasurer Jake Singer said. “For example, we’ve kicked off the process of doing the new Blanche Sims, that building isn’t necessary given that we have students going into Dragon Virtual…I don’t want to ever be in a situation where ‘oh we have to build a building because we need a place to house SOC students’…if ten percent of our elementary students stay Dragon Virtual, do we need six elementary buildings?”
Mercer chimed in with Arnett to explain that SOC students are the district’s responsibility from enrollment to graduation unless the family decides to leave the district. This means that while a family may opt for Dagon Virtual this time around, they must have a guaranteed in-person seat should they choose to switch programs.
“If they come in as schools of choice, they’re ours,” Arnett said. “We can’t dictate which program they’re allowed to be in and not be in.”
With the promise of a deeper discussion on the future of the Dragon Virtual program during their Feb. 10 meeting, Singer questioned whether it was possible for the district to hold off on approving SOC until additional information can be provided. While holding off on approval was not possible because of time restraints, the board found that they could approve SOC but without specifying a percentage cap.
The board unanimously authorized SOC with plans to discuss the percentage cap at their scheduled workshop meeting on Feb. 24.