PCSD unable to close schools to out-of-district transfer students
December 1, 2015
Students from outside the Park City School District’s boundaries will be welcome to apply to attend one of the district’s seven schools for the 2016-2017 school year.
The Park City Board of Education during a public meeting Tuesday determined that projected enrollment for next year was not high enough to warrant closing any school to open enrollment. Per state statute, the Board must compare projected enrollment for each school against an enrollment threshold based on a maximum capacity determined by state formula.
"The number of enrolled students that we had projected a year ago didn’t show up," said Todd Hauber, the district’s business administrator, in an interview with The Park Record. "And projecting for next year on the longer horizon, we had anticipated that enrollment would be in the 100-plus range, but we’re projecting more flat enrollment."
State law dictates that districts must accept applications from out-of-district students for schools that remain open to enrollment. However, the district is not always obliged to take each student who applies. Hauber said in the meeting that the district must evaluate applications for next school year by the end of March, and it can turn away students whose enrollment would force additional staffing or programming changes.
Accepting out-of-district students — whose parents don’t contribute taxes to the district — has long been a hot topic in Park City. But according to district numbers, it’s not currently a widespread problem. This year, there are 143 out-of-district students enrolled — 63 come from Wasatch County, 40 are from the South Summit School District and there are 25 from North Summit — and 41 of them are children of district employees, who are automatically allowed to attend school in the district.
Hauber doesn’t expect those numbers to drastically change next year.
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"Over time, that number has been pretty static," he said. "If there’s a pent-up demand, it would be based on (home) development that has yet to come online."
The schools failing to reach the enrollment thresholds to close them comes on the heels of the district’s failed bond campaign that asked for $56 million largely to solve capacity issues in the elementary schools. But Hauber said the fact enrollment is not high enough to close the schools for next year doesn’t necessarily mean the district’s capacity problems have disappeared.
Hauber said the architectural capacity for the schools can be very different than the capacity as governed by state statute. For determining whether a school is open or closed to out-of-district enrollment, state law forces the district to come up with capacity by multiplying the number of spaces that could be used as a classroom in each school — including areas such as auditorium stages — by the average district class size (or section size for secondary schools).
A number of areas being counted as classroom space in the formula are actually being used for specialty programs such as the music and gifted-and-talented offerings, Hauber said. So while, technically, the district could use those spaces to house additional students, it would mean taking those facilities from the specialty programs.
"These are all programs that have space in the building, and we want to be able to offer all of those programs that the community is anticipating and expecting for our schools," Hauber said.
Hauber said it’s also important to remember that the capacity determined by state statute reflects the state’s goal of ensuring schools are left open if at all possible. If a district wants to close a school, it must meet a high bar.
"That’s probably a dynamic," he said, "that has been lost in all these discussions, is the will of the Legislature to keep a school open versus the community’s concern to educate their own children."
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