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Scappoose superintendent defends open-enrollment policy

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Policy, new rule impose stricter rules for school site visitors

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL - Open enrollment has been used in the past in the Scappoose School District, to help stabilize certain grade levels and maintain an average student attendance rate to normalize state funding. Next school year there is no cap on open enrollment for kindergarten students, while other grades have limits or no open spots.In late February, the Scappoose School Board approved the creation of 135 slots of open enrollment within the district, drawing criticism from some in the community.

In the March 10 issue of the Spotlight, a letter to the editor criticized the district for allowing more student enrollment when space is already limited in the current facilities.

Superintendent Stephen Jupe, however, stands by his decision to open up the spaces. School board members pointed out similar concerns to Jupe about having enough room in the district's buildings when discussions began in February.

Initially, 200 open enrollment spots were proposed. Jupe explained that he goes through an annual, complex process for determining what the enrollment levels are at each grade, how those number fluctuate from month to month, and how many students need to be funneled into each grade the following school year to maintain a somewhat consistent enrollment level.

During a school board work session in late February, the Scappoose School Board approved 135 open enrollment spots in a 4-2 vote. Board members Lisa Maloney and Phil Lager opposed the vote, with Maloney specifically citing concerns about past behavioral issues with some of the transfer students.

The decision came several weeks after the board held a brief discussion about open enrollment at a Feb. 13 board meeting. During that discussion, Lager voiced concerns about allowing students into the district whose families are not paying into the district tax roll because they live outside the school boundaries. Those families aren't paying off school bonds and might not be as invested in the district as those in school boundaries, Lager argued.

After reviewing the numbers with school administrative staff at the school board's request, Jupe presented scaled-down numbers. As a compromise, some grade levels have no allocated open enrollment slots.

Some board members expressed concern about whether or not the buildings could handle the influx of students if every open enrollment spot was filled. Last year, only 30 of 95 available open enrollment spots were filled.

Allowing open enrollment in the district is a matter of maintaining the same level of staffing each year, and creating some predictability in the budget, Jupe explained. The amount of money the district receives from the state determined by the average daily attendance. If enrollment continually drops, the district receives less money and eventually must scale down on staffing levels, he explained.

Lager, however, criticized the district for using the open enrollment method as a way to generate a stable budget in the long run.

In the past, Jupe has spoken about the long-term need to plan for more capacity within the district as a whole as housing booms in Scappoose. Some of the estimated housing predictions received from the city last year have not panned out as expected, Jupe said, but he views allowing students in through open enrollment and building for long-term capacity as two separate issues.