Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

Woods cuts open enrollment by 10 percent

February 06, 2014

GENEVA — The Woods School Board wants to keep class sizes small, so it reduced the number of available open enrollment spaces by about 10 percent.

On Jan. 15, the board voted 2-1 to amend its open enrollment policy. Open enrollment is when children attend a school outside of the district in which they live. Each district can limit the number of out-of-district students it accepts. The Woods School Board removed 11 spots previously available in first- through eighth-grades.

On the phone Jan. 22, Woods Administrator Ed Brzinski said there is a financial disadvantage to cutting down class sizes. However, in a Jan. 22 email, School Board President Neal DeVries, who voted against the amendment, said there will be “no significant challenges as a result of this change. There will be a very slight budgetary hit which will be offset by gains elsewhere in the budget.”

Brzinski said in today’s dollars, over the next 10 years, the reduced open enrollment policy could mean a loss to Woods of about $75,000. The school receives $600,000 annually because of its current open enrollment totals, he said in a Nov. 15 interview.

“We’re going to have to watch any new spending,” Brzinski said Jan. 22. “We’re going to have to make sure we weigh our decisions more carefully.”

Brzinski, DeVries, School Board Treasurer Eric Chapman and Board Clerk Barbie Wolski seemed to agree that the upside is smaller class sizes. The new policy states the board is dedicated to maintaining one class section per grade level.

Brzinski said smaller class sizes allows teachers to provide more attention to students individually.

“I think it’s a wise move,” said Brzinski of the amendment.

But it won’t happen overnight.

“Essentially, what this does, it will, over the next eight years, reduce enrollment to below 200,” said Brzinski. “So, it will be as the current classes pass out of the school. The new classes will be slightly smaller.”

Currently, Woods is at a total enrollment of 209 students, said Brzinski. There are 100 open enrollment students at Woods, according to figures dated Jan. 21. Class sizes range from 17 (third-grade) to 24 (sixth- and seventh-grades).

The class sizes set in the old policy allowed for a total of 212 students — 18 in 4K; 20 in kindergarten; 21 each in first- through fifth-grades; and 23 each in sixth- through eighth-grades.

The new policy does not change the kindergarten and 4K numbers, but allows 20 students each in first- through fifth-grades and 21 each in sixth- through eighth-grades.

Woods “will accept nonresident open enrollment students” if enrollment falls below those class sizes, states the policy. What does it mean to open enrollment students currently attending Woods?

“Students who are currently enrolled will always have a place here,” said Brzinski. “It’s (nonresident) students who wish to enroll, new students, (for whom) class spaces will be more limited.”

Superficial or best for students?

DeVries said he has “no problem with lowering our grade level limits,” but he voted against the amendment for two reasons. “First, I feel like it is somewhat superficial — one child per grade at the elementary level and two per grade in middle school,” he said. “Second, I think the class sizes were appropriate as they were.”

DeVries said he liked the class sizes that were set under the old policy after extensive conversations with Woods staff. “The smaller the class size, the greater the chance of unbalanced gender numbers — we currently have two grades with only five girls — and the less opportunity for wider social interaction.”

However, said DeVries, the community wanted lower open enrollment numbers.

In a Jan. 24 email, Wolski said she believes the community views open enrollment negatively, but “I feel that allowing students from other districts to attend Woods School enriches the academic and social lives of our children who live in-district.”

However, she said the reduction “is in line with our current enrollment” and in the best interest of Woods students.

“Both too large and too small class sizes can have negative impacts on the learning environment that we are trying to create at Woods,” said Wolski. “As with many things, there is no set answer to the enrollment question. The Board is trying to find the right balance and what works best for Woods School.”

“Many of the open enrollment spots that in the past may have gone unfilled are now taken,” said Chapman in a Jan. 30 email. “Lowering the open enrollment number brings us back in line with more traditional enrollment.”

Enrollment, it seems, is a frequent topic of discussion. Wolski said the amendment was part of the board’s annual policy review.

DeVries said the board will continue to monitor it “and continue to adapt board policies to meet the needs of the Woods School students and the surrounding community.”

As to the question of what challenges the new policy brings, Chapman echoed Brzinski’s financial concerns.

“Lower enrollment will mean fewer dollars,” said Chapman. “The board and administration will have to work with that new financial reality.”