Callaway educators: Open enrollment would strain schools

As one Callaway County superintendent raised concerns this week at the possibility this could be the year open enrollment legislation successfully passes through the state legislature, other local educators voiced their opinions as to how that would affect Missouri schools.

Superintendents Jacque Cowherd of Fulton and Bryan Thomsen of North Callaway, and interim superintendent Tom Baugh of New Bloomfield agreed that open enrollment — which would allow public school students who live in one district to enroll in another — would not help districts already struggling with decreased state and federal funding in a hard economy.

“I’m concerned about it because in our tight budget times, no one is explaining yet how money is going to flow,” Cowherd said.

He further noted that there has been no discussion about facilities.

“What if you’re overcrowded? The local taxpayer unit is still responsible for providing facilities,” Cowherd said. “Everybody wants kids to do well and get the best experience possible ... (but) in this economic environment we’re scraping for what we can for our students.”

Thomsen agreed that “much is going to depend on how the bill is worded.”

“The biggest concern for me is, the way Missouri funds education, how is open enrollment going to affect our system,” he said.

Thomsen said he understands that open enrollment has worked in states like Minnesota, but said the way schools are funded there differ from how much Missouri districts depend on state support.

“There would be a bigger impact on a local district (here),” he said. “I think that’s something we definitely need to consider.”

Thomsen also questioned how open enrollment would affect class sizes in already-stressed districts, and how student eligibility for extra-curricular activities would be determined.

Baugh, who noted that he has not seen the details for current open enrollment proposals, brought up yet another concern.

“They’ve talked about open enrollment for years,” said Baugh, a former Hallsville superintendent. “It tends to be difficult for districts to provide transportation on the fringes of their districts (already). It really affects transportation a great deal.”

Like Thomsen, he also pointed out that open enrollment would create added stress in determining class sizes, number of grade sections and staffing needs.

“We size classrooms and staff on a prediction of the number of students,” Baugh said. “We have to make that prediction the previous spring, and if it fluctuates too much it can create problems.”

Like the other superintendents, he said he “can’t see (open enrollment) as an advantage.”

“I can understand how it might help kids that attend failing schools,” Baugh said, however, “I think the intention is good, but the effects might not be.”

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