School Board Election: Declining Enrollment/Schools of Choice

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 10/24/2012 - 01:00

Enrollment is projected to decline by around 500 students over the next five years at Saline Area Schools. The district is funded by the state, for the most part on a per-pupil basis and, if projections hold up, the district will lose nearly $4 million in state funding annually. How does Saline Area Schools continue to offer everything it does as the schools and budgets shrink?

There are four candidates running for two open six-year terms on the boards. Smita Nagpal, Diane Friese, Karen Delhey and Paul Hynek will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot.  The candidates have paired off to run as teams, with Nagpal and Friese running as one team and Delhey and Hynek running as the other. Voters, however, are free to choose any two they wish.

See the candidates side-to-side when the Saline High School student group Students Reinvesting In a Valuable Education (STRIVE) hosts a candidates forum at 6:30 p.m., Oct. 25 at Saline Middle School.

Here is today's question:

Plante Moran presented a report to school board last spring projecting the district will lose 500 students over the next five years. This represents almost 10 percent of our current student population and more than $3.5 million annually. What is your plan to cope with this loss of students? Do you support or oppose expanding the Schools of Choice program in the district?

Karen Delhey

The issue here is a potential loss in revenue to the district, which would in turn mean either looking at ways to increase revenue or cut the budget accordingly. Our facilities were built for a certain projected population, which we currently do not have. So far it is my belief that the schools of choice program has been a positive for the district. Any expansion of the program would need to be looked at carefully with a detailed and comprehensive plan so that it remains a positive within the district, not just monetarily. 

Paul Hynek

I’ve always supported the School of Choice program – not as a way to balance our budget, but as a way to potentially gain more diversity into the district and bottom line, offer a limited amount of students the benefit of a Saline Area Schools education. Governor Snyder is proposing to require Schools of Choice state wide. The downside is districts competing against each other for students. To make up for lost students, I feel we need to find out what we are lacking in Saline Area Schools that have driven parents/students to private and charter schools. Mr. Laatsch gave a great presentation recently about “branding” Saline Area Schools and I think this deserves some attention. Working in conjunction with the City of Saline and the Chamber of Commerce we should be attracting business and their associated workers/children to locate in Saline. It was great to see that on count day we lost less students than we budgeted for this year. 

Smita Nagpal

Do we have a choice but to be a School of Choice? In fact, do we have a Choice but to be a competitive School of Choice, given the Plante Moran predictions of dropping enrollment? I think not.

It is not my favorite solution to have a public school be a School of Choice, as it pits one school district against another and opens the door to taking funding away from public schools. However, short of bringing more jobs into the community, we have no choice but to be a School of Choice. On the plus side of it, being a School of Choice can increase the diversity of our student population and bring involved parents into our school community. But we must plan this carefully, with an eye toward the details. For instance, taking students into the school district at a high school level can have a different impact than taking students at a middle or elementary school level. Also, we must keep an eye on possible increases in costs when we take more students, and not simply add students into an already crowded classroom. That being said, I would support careful and thoughtful expansion of the Schools of Choice program in the district as a viable way to address projected declines in enrollment. Adding new and unique programs, such as the Love of Language program that the Saline Foundation’s Strategic grant will make possible this year, is a great way to address our enrollment goals while raising the quality of education for our elementary students. Last but not least, entry and exit surveys of students entering or leaving our school district would be very helpful in finding out what makes our schools attractive and what are some areas for improvement if we hope to increase enrollment.

Diane Friese

Public schools in the past were never in the business of competing for students. 

Educators, by nature, are people who dedicate themselves to the betterment of all schools and communities, yet we find our selves in this very disturbing competitive position. One of the most encouraging innovations, I have heard of in a long time, has happened recently between our own district and that of the Ypsilanti Public 

School System. The two districts have come together to solve the issue of providing healthy food programs to Ypsilanti students. Rather then using a private firm to aid in offering a healthy affordable lunch program to Ypsilanti students,( a program that was tried and apparently fell short of the mark), the superintendents of these two districts were able to work across district boarders to create a winning solution. Saline will profit, by providing a healthy lunch program, for its neighboring school children. This solution begs the question, “What other innovative solutions may be developed in the future, by creative members of the educational community?” I hope to be a part of this kind problem solving.

Previous Questions

Saline School Board Election: Why Do You Want to Serve?

Saline School Board Election: Guiding Beliefs and Principles

Saline School Board Election: Creation of FSAS Director

Saline School Board Election: Board/Administration Relations

Saline School Board Election: Support for a Bond Proposal?

Saline School Board Election: Class Sizes

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Tran Longmoore
Tran Longmoore is a veteran community journalist. He is founder and owner of TheSalinePost.com. He is co-publisher of The Saline Post weekly newspaper. Email him at [email protected] or call him at 734-272-6294.

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