Saline Board of Education Elects for Flexibility On Capping Out-of-District Students


The Saline Area Schools Board of Education voted to amend Policy 5113 at its final October meeting Tuesday night, adding language solidifying a measure of flexibility for the superintendent to “strive to” keep School of Choice enrollment in the district around 10 percent

“Prior to 2018 our policies were under the umbrella of the Michigan Association of School Boards and in 2018 moved to the Neola platform,” according to agenda notes from the previous October board meeting. Neola is an organization that helps school districts set policy. “At the time there were policies that did not move over to Neola and were considered rescinded by the board.”

Tuesday night’s action was an attempt to patch the hole created by the switch.

The item was on the agenda only as a second reading, but the board voted on the matter after Trustee Susan Estep asked that they do since the proposed language did not change after discussion.

It passed 5-1-0, as Secretary Jenny Miller was absent. Trustee Tim Austin represented the solo negative vote.

Austin took issue with the flexibility of the language in the amendment, advocating for a hard cap of 10 percent, a cap that existed for several years before the switch to Neola.

He proposed adding a requirement that SAS cease taking on students from outside the district if the annual percentage of School of Choice enrollment exceeds 10 percent. Out of district enrollment could proceed the following year if the number dipped below that. He also said School of Choice students already enrolled in the district should not lose their place if the cap ever were to exceed 10 percent, which other trustees agreed with.

“These, I think, are important to have in there versus the word ‘strive,’” Austin said. “There’s some wiggle room in this but yet it helps give us some teeth to the administrative guidelines so we as a board understand what we should vote for and what we shouldn’t vote for, as well as still protecting the School of Choice students that are here.”

Board President Michael McVey assured Austin that they were on the same page in allowing existing School of Choice students to finish their educations in Saline no matter what happens with future enrollment, but said it will be up to the board of education every year to make sure the superintendent is sticking to the obligation of keeping out of district enrollment to approximately 10 percent.

“That’s sort of what number E already says, that the superintendent is responsible for developing the administrative guidelines to suit that,” he said.

McVey questioned if Austin was suggesting closing the School of Choice program for a year if enrollment exceeded 10 percent to which Austin said he was.

“That’s where you’ve lost me,” McVey said. “If we’re over, then the next year we just aim for under so we always have in this district around 10 percent.”

Superintendent Steve Laatsch said he felt Austin’s example was fairly clear.

“The current situation is we’re at like 10.4 percent,” Laatsch said. He gave an example that if 50 students graduated leaving School of Choice enrollment at 9.7 percent of the total population, under Austin’s proposal they might only be able to take around half the number of students, which differs from the current practice. “Therefore in me guessing what enrollment would be next year, we could take 20 or 30 students but we wouldn’t be able to take the normal 70, which is sort of traditionally what we take, between 60 and 70. Because if we did take that normal amount we’d get over 10 percent.”

Trustee Lauren Gold said she was in favor of the “strive to” language as written because a strict cap might detract families from pursuing School of Choice for their oldest child not knowing if their younger siblings will make the cut later on.

“I think that’s always a little bit of a risk, but this seems like it will make it even a bigger risk,” she said.

Treasurer Brad Gerbe said he also was in favor of the language as proposed, since it is line with the way Laatsch currently operates.

“To me this language supports him and what he’s already doing,” he said.

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As the Policy Board Chairperson and Board Trustee who wrote the 2013 policy regarding Class Size as well as School of Choice I have a point of view that I would like to share with the community.

As many will recall for over a decade the district struggled with SOC as a remedy for addressing the budget challenges of that time period.
As part of the campaign pledge that myself and my running mate, Dave Holden took, we pledged to eliminate the budget declines, prevent the district from insolvency and ensure a strong classroom environment so our students and staff can both be successful.
The outcome was the creation of 2 policies, one dealing with class size and the other with out of district students.

As an important detail, out of district families DO NOT PAY ALL THE SUPPLIMENTATAL BOND money that in district household pay. That results in with a 10% out of district population up to $5 million per year in reduced funding for the district and up to a $5 million dollar subsidy by Saline Area District Families per year as a result of SOC students.

In 2019 I reached out to then Supt. Graden about the rumor I had heard about the elimination of these two policies with the conversion of the on line manual to a new tool and he assured me that these two policies (and about 4 others) needed to be added since the boiler plate language of the new tool did not include our approved and active policy. He understood that was an Administrative Obligation he had as Supt and was working on that task. He retired before completing that administrative step and it appears the new Supt. did not get the memo and dropped the ball.

In speaking with members of the Board and the Previous Supt. NONE OF THEM understood that the 10% cap on SOC or the caps on Class Size policies were no longer active and THEY ALL SAID THEY DID NOT UNDERSTAND that these policies were being eliminated with the change in software tools.

I STRONGLY encourage this Board and this School Administration to reinstate both of these policies as they were written. Those policies were written and have served the district well for the past 10 years.

Our Budgets have been solid, staff layoffs were eliminated, our staff continued to be among the highest paid staff in the state and in the nation, our Fund Balance has grown, our classroom sizes had been among the best in the state and our District with the #1 District in County in academic success until the current school administration.

DONT BREAK THAT WHICH HAS WORKED SO WELL FOR SO LONG FOR OUR STUDENTS, OUR STAFF, AND OUR COMMUNITY. Don't let the current up to $5 MILLION cost to the district be the new normal.

Speak up everyone and let the Board and the School Administration hear from you about these two matters. It impacts the quality of education we provide our students, the quality of educational experiences for our staff and the home values of the everyone's home in our School District. (If you check the most recent home values, Saline declined while every other community has risen in the past year.)

David Zimmer, retired Trustee Saline School Board and Architect of the 2004 Long Range Planning Committee.

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