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Open enrollment has ‘minimal impact’ on District 518 overcrowding

WORTHINGTON — For the past several months, the Independent School District 518 Board of Education has continuously considered possible solutions to district-wide overcrowding.

Though it did not garner much discussion, discontinuing open-enrollment was one of about 15 identified possible short and long-term solutions on a space action plan updated in late November and offered for consideration by the board in December.

District 518 Superintendent John Landgaard said the board didn’t determine to close open enrollment in the district because, with a current net loss of about 240 students, it’s not having a major impact on the district’s overcrowding issues.

“The number that we have coming in on a yearly basis is not a huge number, so it really has minimal impact on solving our space needs,” Landgaard added.

There are a variety of enrollment reporting factors that can cause some discrepancy between a physical headcount and how it’s reported to the state — including whether a student is in a district the entire year, or arrives after the school year begins or leaves before it ends. Student enrollment at the Area Learning Center is calculated by hours attended to determine the average daily membership rather than a physical representation of students in the building.

While those and other variables exist, districts are able to approximate their seat-based attendance/average daily membership.  

While enrollment numbers change throughout a school year as kids continue to come and go, as of early January, 3,382 students reside within District 518. That number includes the approximately 20 students from within the district enrolled in VIBE Online School, although those students don’t contribute to the district’s space constraints.

Of the students residing within the district, about 2,991 are enrolled in District 518 schools and physically attend Prairie Elementary, Worthington Middle School or Worthington High School. Approximately 139 open-enrolled students also attend those facilities.  

“That’s not a big enough factor to address the space issue,” Landgaard said.

The district receives approximately $9,846 per open-enrolled student from either the Minnesota Department of Education or the Round Lake-Brewster School District per tuition agreement. Because the RL-B school district no longer has a high school option, it funds students in grades nine through 12 that reside within their district and attend Worthington High School.

Just as students are opting into District 518, others are opting out.

As of this week, 371 students residing within District 518 are open-enrolled in another surrounding school district, a difference of 232 students.

While District 518 is not currently seriously considering discontinuing open enrollment, had it determined to close it, new students from families residing outside the district would not have been allowed to enroll. However, students residing within District 518 would have still been able to open-enroll in surrounding school districts that accept them.

Surrounding districts’ open enrollment

Surrounding school districts’ open-enrollment data differs from that of Worthington.

Of Adrian District 511’s current 616 students, 389 reside within the district while 227 are open-enrolled. According to Superintendent Roger Graff, of Adrian’s open-enrolled students, approximately 177 students (or 78 percent) reside within the District 518 school district.

“Open enrollment helps us to maintain our educational programs at all levels and has enriched our district by making it more diverse,” Graff said. “Many open-enrolled families like the smaller class sizes and small school feel that we have to offer.”

Considering the 2017-2018 continuously changing data, the Ellsworth Public School District’s total enrollment would not be greatly affected by a change in open enrollment.

Of the Ellsworth school’s current average daily membership of 144 students, 33 are students that reside in another school district and are open-enrolled to the Ellsworth district. However, about 29 students reside within the Ellsworth district and open-enroll in other surrounding districts, which provides the district a net gain of about four students.

“A large amount of our open enrollment comes from mainly two districts, Luverne and Adrian,” District 514 Superintendent John Willey said.

The Ellsworth district picks up two students that reside within District 518, while one student that resides in the Ellsworth district attends school in Worthington.

Fulda and Round Lake-Brewster’s open-enrollment data was not available Friday. RL-B Superintendent Ray Hassing said the majority of his district’s open-enrollment students are from Worthington.

Alyssa Sobotka

Alyssa joined The Globe in July 2017 and covers education and crime beats. The Nebraska native earned her bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Nebraska at Kearney. In her own sarcastic tone, her blog, Aimlessly Navigating, recounts the reality, pitfalls and triumphs of a young 20-something navigating to maturity. Follow her on Twitter: @alyssasobotka

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