Schools of Choice

Amy Al-Katib

The Mason Board of Education announced Monday, Feb. 11 that they would close Cedar Elementary School in accordance with the facilities consolidation plan. Following this, they informed the public that an in-district school of choice option wouldn’t be offered for elementary students during the 2008-2009 school year.

“Once we get past this facility consolidation piece we will go back to allowing schools of choice within the district among the three remaining schools,” said Superintendent James Harvey.

This is the first year the Board has voted against allowing the in-district schools of choice option. Harvey said it was intended to avoid chaos while closing a school. “You have all these kindergartners and first graders that you need to put somewhere,” said Diane Wilson, administrative assistant to the assistant superintendent of instruction. “And we don’t know how it’s going to unfold yet next year,” she said.

Kindergarten and first grade students who would normally attend Cedar will be redistricted to other schools next year as part one of the phase out. “We don’t want people leaving the schools they are assigned to,” said Harvey.

But, the question parents have is, How can we keep our kids together? The answer: students who are reassigned but have siblings in other schools can still apply for in-district schools of choice. “There’s no guarantee for any schools of choice student, but we don’t want to split up families,” said Harvey. Therefore, the students will be allowed to apply and will be granted permission given there are enough openings for the particular grade and building they will enter.

The Board will still allow for out-of-district schools of choice students to attend Mason schools. Because funding is distributed on a per pupil basis, the out-of-district students help balance the budget. Harvey said that most years they lose approximately 30 or 40 students, but they gain 40 or 50. “It’s about a net effect of zero, but we’re usually positive by at least a few,” he said.

The Board’s decision to target in-district rather than out-of-district schools of choice students has not raised many issues for the public. In-district schools of choice only applies to elementary students because there is only one building for both middle school and high school. Gina Stanley, principal at North Aurelius said she hasn’t heard any complaints. “I announced it at kindergarten round-up that we wouldn’t be allowing it because that’s where parents sign up for it, and I didn’t even get any questions,” she said.

Lisa Francisco, the principal at Cedar Elementary, said that with any institution there are always undesirable decisions that have to be made. And while she doesn’t like to see options taken away from her students, she said there’s not enough money in education.

Heather Waldrop, the Secretary at Alaiedon, feels that the Board made an excellent decision. The facilities consolidation plan was designed to reduce costs because of insufficient funding. “This policy will end up saving our district a lot of money just in transportation alone,” she said.

Harvey explained that out-of-district schools of choice students arrange their own transportation but that the district provides transportation for the in-district schools of choice students. However, he said costs will remain the same. “It really doesn’t have any bearing on the transportation because we already have connecting buses between every one of our buildings,” he said.

Therefore, the Board decided to stop in-district schools of choice only to make transitioning easier. “This way, a teacher at one school doesn’t have to wonder why they have 27 students when teachers in the same grade at other schools only have 17,” said Harvey.

And class size is a concern for parents too. In a previous interview, Dawn Stark, a parent of an elementary school student, said she worried that classes were going to get too big to provide a conducive learning environment.

“We’re trying to prevent a large exodus of students because we don’t have the slots to accommodate them anyway,” said Harvey. “But the decision not to allow in-district schools of choice is really a very minor piece of all this. The main significance is moving all of them out of there,” he said.

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