South Range school board approves open enrollment

BEAVER TOWNSHIP- The South Range Local school board Monday night approved an open enrollment policy for the 2013-2014 school year.

The board unanimously approved the adjacent open enrollment policy limited to capacity for grades kindergarten through six only. Recommended by schools Superintendent Dennis Dunham last month, the move will open up the district to students in the eight districts abutting South Range.

If the district were to fill the elementary classes to a capacity of 100 students, in addition to the 24 students for which the district receives funding via contractual agreements, the proposed open enrollment would generate $1,054,688 annually in state funding for 184 students- equal to a 6.1-mill levy, Dunham said during his recommendation Dec. 17. The funding would be available at the beginning of the school year, he added.

Dunham explained that the school board and administration have been researching and considering the option for several months and that the goal is to preserve programs currently offered at all grade levels in the face of a declining student enrollment.

“[The goal is to] provide a quality education for present and future students of South Range,” he said. “That is not attainable through levy and cuts alone.”

He noted that a 10-mill levy would only generate $1.72 million, less than what is needed, and that the board would have to go back to the taxpayers in two years, adding to a presumed voter fatigue from 38 ballot issues since 1970.

Ultimately, declining enrollment is the main issue in continuing programs, Dunham said, pointing out that if fewer students are participating in programs, those programs cannot be sustained.

“The goal [of open enrollment] is to bring our enrollment back to what it was,” he said.

Enrollment has declined steadily since 2005, according to Dunham. In the 2005-2006 school year, enrollment was at 1,347; class sizes for next year are projected at an average of 80 for elementary (as low as 50 for second grade) and 105 for the middle and high schools (as high as 114 in 11th).

Dunham also noted that 76 percent of Ohio districts are open enrollment, including 89 percent in Mahoning, Columbiana and Trumbull counties, the latter two of which are all open enrollment.

“The character of our staff, students and parents have the biggest impact on the future of the district,” he said. “I’m confident that the 85 or 90 percent of the student population can take care of the character issues of the 10 or 15 percent of incoming students.”

Boardmember John Fromel responded to concerns raised at the last meeting about property values decreasing with open enrollment. He provided limited data compiled through the Ohio Department of Taxation and the Ohio Department of Education that showed no clear affect on property values in districts with open enrollment. According to the data using valuations from 2000 and 2011, homes in Mahoning County districts with open enrollment showed an increase of 28.91 percent while district without increased by 36.6 percent, but districts in Columbiana, with all open enrollment, increased by 46.44 percent.

In the public speaks portion of the meeting, two parents questioned the board’s decision to accept students from other districts to generate money and thus taking from other districts’ state funds.

Boardmember Ralph Wince responded that the district will be operating within established rules.

“The rules are set that we can live within,” he said. “We can only control how we do things here.”

Kevin Howell can be reached at