Crowded SL schools must take hard line on open enrollment

Friday, November 19, 2021

With crowded buildings, the Storm Lake schools must limit open enrollment.

The school board discussed the situation at its meeting this week.

After March 1, the district won’t sign paperwork for students wanting to open enroll in from other districts unless they can show what the state defines as good cause - either their family moving into the district, or proof of a bullying or harassment situation at their current school. Superintendent Stacey Cole said the district has had to take a hard stance with a couple of families wanting in over the past two weeks.

District officials are sometimes questioned about why they let so many kids from other districts come in, when schools are already crowded. The state permits full open enrollment before the March deadline for each upcoming school year.

There are some sad stories from families looking for new schools, but Storm Lake doesn’t have room in its buildings, she said. “It’s hard when a family doesn’t feel it has been treated well,” but unless their current district has done an investigation and checked the box acknowledging the bullying problem, Storm Lake’s decision will stand. The district can’t allow some families in and deny others, Supt. Cole said.

One family with several school-age children opted to open enroll out of the district to a neighboring one this school year, then changed their mind a short time later, and the district had to deny their attempt to return.

District records show 92 students open enrolled into Storm Lake from the Alta-Aurelia district. The superintendent said that in many of those cases, families have moved from Storm Lake to Alta, and open enrolled prior to the deadline so their children can continue in the Storm Lake schools.

“People have to find a place to live,” school board member Amilia Marroquin said of the exodus, noting the sharp housing shortage in Storm Lake.

In other school board business:

* A few facts from a financial report: The cost of operating the school district breaks down to over $87,000 per day. Salaries and benefits, over $25 million, makes up 80 percent of the district budget. Special education accounts for 19 percent of the budget. Transportation costs an average of $6.24 per mile, up this past year because the district offered double bus routes to maintain social distancing.

* The board agreed to add dental, vision and life insurance offerings to their benefit package for full-time employees, hoping to better serve the needs of staff and entice more applicants.

* The board will continue to meet on the third Wednesday of each month for regular meetings, but will move the time to 5:30 p.m. starting in December.