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Mar-25-2012 14:25printcomments

Some Districts Resist State Open Enrollment Change, While Others Embrace it

The Eugene School District, for example, opened up 1,725 seats to new students, while it currently serves 16,000.

Oregon School enrollment
Photo by Graur Razvan Ionut /

(PORTLAND, OR) - Oregon K-12 students have until April 1 to apply for transfers to public schools that opted into the state’s new open enrollment law.

School boards and districts had until March 1, 2012 to decide whether or not they would accept new students from outside their district based on the recent open enrollment policy put into place by the legislature.

Legislators approved a bill in the last few weeks of the 2011 legislative session which opened the doors for school districts to adopt open enrollment policies.

Previously, students wishing to transfer to other school districts had to obtain approval both from the district they were leaving and the district to which they wanted to transfer. The 2011 legislation, however, eliminated the need for students to receive approval to leave a district and required school districts to decide if they would open their district up to a bulk group of transfer students or to evaluate each on a one-by-one basis.

The Eugene School District, for example, opened up 1,725 seats to new students, while it currently serves 16,000.

Communications Coordinator for the Eugene School District Kerry Delf said her district previously allowed transfers to neighboring districts on basically a one-to-one exchange, so neither district would lose or gain students. Delf said the school district always had more students seeking enrollment than they had spaces under that exchange program.

But Delf said that the Eugene School District has seen declining enrollment from a change in local demographics, so the schools had the capacity to accept a large number of transfer students.

“We didn’t want to artificially limit it when we have the capacity,” said Delf, noting that she does not expect the district to actually reach that cap.

Delf said the district had received a few hundred applications the last time she checked but there likely would be more students applying closer to the April 1 application deadline.

Nearby schools in Lane County are also taking advantage of the new open enrollment law. Springfield opened up over 900 seats to add to its existing 11,000. A much smaller district, McKenzie, opened 120 seats, half the number of students it currently serves. The only Lane County district of the 16 that is opting out of open enrollment is Siuslaw, which currently serves 1,400 students.

Other counties, like those surrounding Albany and Corvallis, were more apprehensive about taking the state up on its offer of open enrollment. In Linn County, only Harrisburg and Central Linn school districts approved open enrollment, while the largest districts like Greater Albany and Corvallis did not.

Carol Reeves, communications specialist for the Corvallis School District, told Oregon Capitol News that Corvallis has “always had an open enrollment policy.”

Reeves said all of the surrounding school districts have an agreement that they will all accept each other’s students.

“It’s not been an issue in this area,” she said, pointing to the agreement which encompasses Albany, Corvallis, Philomath, and Alsea.

Reeves said there is no formal cap for the school district on that agreement but that seats are based on availability in the school.

“We can’t take any more students into our district then what schools are able to hold,” she said.

Even with the school districts around Corvallis taking open enrollment students, Reeves said she didn’t expect those polices to have a “dramatic effect” on the Corvallis district.

Reeves added that her district wanted to be able to maintain control of the students they could keep and accept at their school. She said the Corvallis School District wanted to be able to send students back to their home district if the district encountered problems like behavioral or attendance issues.

The Alsea School District, just two miles west of Corvallis, opened up 70 seats for open enrollment offers.

Marc Thielman, superintendent of the Aslea School District, said he didn’t expect to fill that many seats but that he has enrolled 14 students so far, an increase of more than 10 percent for the district which serves about 130 students.

Thielman said his community has seen a massive change in the demographics because of the decline in timber in the area.

“The community has gotten a lot smaller and consequently the school district has lost about half of its population,” said Thielman, adding that his school board saw open enrollment as an opportunity to change that.

“The open enrollment became a rallying cry of hope,” he told Oregon Capitol News.

“We saw it as an opportunity to market the things that are special about this small school here in Alsea,” said the superintendent, pointing to the district’s goals of academic achievement, technological infrastructure, community relations, and transparency.

Thielman said his district has been very aggressive in its marketing of open enrollment, sending out 10,000 brochures and then 10,000 flyers and agreeing to bus in students who decide to transfer to the rural school district.

Like Corvallis, the southern Oregon county of Jackson showed similar reluctance to participate. Of the nine school districts in that county, the Ashland School District alone granted approval for out-of-district students to attend.

The state’s largest school district, the Portland School District, also declined to take part in the open enrollment process. But many surrounding districts, including West Linn-Wilsonville, Gresham-Barlow, Canby and Gladstone, among others, agreed to offer open enrollment seats for transfer students.

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