Out-of-district students jump through hoops
The Park City School District (PCSD) is operating under a new state-mandated border control policy and is letting in more out-of-district students than ever before. The PCSD has a much easier task than federal border control agents, but they still must examine the impact these students are making around the district.
This year the PCSD has accepted 126 out-of-district transfers, a 57 percent increase from last year, according to district administrative assistant Nancy Scott. Most of these students come from Wasatch County, South Summit or North Summit.
The PCSD adheres to state and federal laws that determine what criteria the district uses to accept out-of-district student applicants and what process students must follow to apply for enrollment in another district.
"Whatever the state says goes," said Patty Murphy, PCSD business administrator. She continued by saying that if the district has space available they are almost required to accept transfer students. According to Murphy, this is how the district has operated in the past, but now it’s state law.
Park City High School (PCHS) principal Hilary Hays explained that she believes in accepting students if they can. Hays referred to the, "unbelievable academic opportunity," that PCSD schools offer to students. According to Hays, students want to transfer to Park City because they know the school will leave them well-prepared for their endeavors after high school. Hays also explained that people want to transfer into the district because they understand that Park City is a community with a high median income and a high level of parent involvement, which opens up more resources to help struggling students.
Changes in state law allow students who have been accepted as out-of-district transfers to remain with the district until they graduate. PCSD board member Michael Boyle explained that when the district accepts a kindergarten or first-grade student, they are now obligated to make room for that student until they graduate, which may "hasten the day that area schools become full."
A few exceptions to this rule apply. Students with discipline problems, students who are no longer Utah residents, or students with excessive absences may be asked to leave. Also, Murphy explained that it is the district’s understanding that, under current legislation, if overcrowding becomes an issue they have the power to say "no longer" to the non-resident students.
The state has determined that a school is at capacity and can no longer accept transfer students when enrollment reaches 90 percent. According to Steve Oliver of the PCSD support services department, Park City cannot officially calculate student enrollment for this year until after Oct. 1. Oliver explained that, according to last year’s numbers, the schools closest to capacity were: Treasure Mountain International School at 88.2 percent, Jeremy Ranch Elementary School at 83.7 percent and Parley’s Park Elementary School at 81.9 percent capacity.
At the elementary school level, it is easy to determine whether an out-of-district applicant can be admitted because enrollment is divided into grades and individual classes. If a class has less than 23 students, the student can join that class explained Scott. At the high school, it’s "a different animal," described Hays because students take different classes throughout the day, and most of the classes are mixed grade-level. Hays explained that she looks at the school as a whole, and because PCHS is at about 65 percent of capacity, the only reason transfer requests are denied is if the student will be part of the special needs department which is currently full.
School board members also expressed concerns that the district is employing additional staff to provide for out-of-district transfers. The school board is aware that, looking at the district as a whole, they may be employing up to six additional teachers because of the 126 out-of-district students. Boyle expressed concern that additional staff may also be needed in the future as new transfer students are added each year.
Murphy explained that the financial strain from accepting students from other districts is lightened for two reasons. First, these students are part of enrollment figures, and the district still receives money from the state to educate these students. Additionally, the PCSD receives a share of money raised by property taxes levied in the district the student transfers from.
Another change in the district policy this year is a rolling application deadline. In previous years, enrollment requests had to be submitted between Dec.1 and the third Friday in Feb. Applications are still being accepted and reviewed for students interested in attending PCSD schools explained Scott.
Hays said she’s "frustrated with the policy," because the lack of a concrete deadline is making it difficult for teachers and administrators to predict how many students will be attending their schools this year.
Scott contends that this new policy has also added to the number of requests submitted, because students who miss the priority February deadline still have the opportunity to have their application considered. The district has accepted 23 transfer requests since February. Murphy also said that this year five or six students from the PCSD have transferred out to other districts.
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