A bubble of large class sizes in this year’s fourth through ninth grade classes have led the St. Michael-Albertville school district to consider limiting their open enrollment policy.
Discussion will begin at Monday evening’s St. Michael-Albertville School Board meeting, but superintendent Dr. Jim Behle said the final decision would not be made that night. The space crunch mainly involves the two middle schools and the high school.
The high school has the capacity to handle 2,000 students, and high school principal Bob Driver has said it would be very challenging to squeeze any more than 2,100 into the building. The district’s two middle schools are currently feeling the pinch from these large class sizes, with capacities of 1,025 (Middle School East) and 1,250 (Middle School West).
Next year’s freshman class is the first in school district history to exceed 500 students, but it won’t be the only one. Next year’s seventh and eighth grade classes are already over 500 students, and that doesn’t count the 30 or more students per year who generally come in from St. Michael Catholic School, which doesn’t serve high school students. Next year’s fourth through sixth grade class sizes aren’t much smaller, currently ranging from 478 to 490. After that, sizes readjust downward. Next year’s kindergarten class is expected to have about 420 students.
If the school district opts to limit open enrollment, they could legally grant preference for siblings of current students to help families stay together in one district. However, Behle said they cannot legally grant preference to out-of-district students who currently attend the St. Michael Catholic school but would like their children to open enroll into STMA’s public high school, unless that student has a sibling who attends the public school and if the board decides to grant preference to siblings.
The school district has an incentive to retain as many students as they can have space for, as each pupil, regardless of whether they live in the district or not, brings in about $6,000 of revenue from the state of Minnesota. In the 2014-2015 school year the STMA school district lost 368 students who open enrolled elsewhere, but many more, 627, open enrolled into the district. That equals over $3.7 million that the school district gained from open enrolled pupils last year.
Though the school board has not yet had any discussions on the issue, Behle said he suspects the board might look into strategic limiting of open enrollment as a first strategy. However, he didn’t rule out the possibility that the board may look into limiting open enrollment at all grade levels.
“Either option is on the table, but next year’s grades five through nine is where we have the most kiddos right now,” he said.
If the school district does opt to limit open enrollment, Behle said that decision would be reviewed each year; it would not necessarily be a long-term decision. He also stressed that anyone who has already open enrolled for next school year would not be impacted. In fact, he believes any possible limiting would not impact any student who is currently open enrolled.
“I don’t think [the school board] would want to interrupt the education of kids who are already here,” Behle said. “The purpose of limiting open enrollment in the future is that we could control additional growth. We’re not in a position where we have to reduce the number of students.”
“I think the important thing is that people understand that this is a board discussion at this point and that no decisions have been made,” he added. “We’re going to have this discussion over the next month or two, because it will impact families in our community.”
The school board meeting where this issue will be discussed begins at 7 p.m. Monday, April 4 in the Middle School West boardroom.