District debates expansion of parental choice

The Warren County School District’s four high school, one district model is unique across the Commonwealth.

Relatively strict boundaries – and corresponding policy – are in place to dictate which of those high schools a student attends.

A proposal by a school board member to expand choices for parents was not met with a warm reception by district administration.

The nexus of the discussion was a proposal to update the policy that dictates how students are assigned to a school.

Two changes to that policy were proposed – allowing district employees to have their children attend school where they work as well as a child care provision that would allow for transfer.

Board member John Wortman wants to see the flexibility go further.

He called for a change to the policy to “allow for more flexibility for all of our taxpayers to have similar opportunities,” he said.

Wortman said he’s heard from constituents who would like the opportunity to have their children attend Warren Area High School as well as the inverse, people in the central attendance area who would prefer their children attend one of the district’s other high schools.

“We would be providing that opportunity for students,” he said, if the parent/guardian is willing to provide transportation to school or a bus stop.

“We’re one school district,” he said, “and our citizens pay taxes to the school district,” not to individual attendance areas.

“(We) should provide as much parental choice as possible in where their child goes to school as long as the current structure exists,” Wortman added.

“The biggest thing we run into is for planning purposes,” Superintendent Gary Weber said, outlining challenges to the process of staffing the high schools. “That’s the main reason why we drew lines and kept them consistent.”

Wortman said a better option in his view would be to settle on a date “where the district would need to know what the parent’s intent is.”

Dr. Patricia Mead, director of pupil services, said the district has previously explored an open enrollment option but said it came with a “huge set of barriers for us.”

She specifically identified the amount of staff time that was being spent over the summer on transfers when more flexibility was offered.

“It would create a lot of unknown barriers for us,” she added.

Wortman asked for survey data on how many residents would be interested in transferring if given the opportunity.

“If this is a small handful of students and parents who want more opportunity and more choice, then I think that’s something we need to seriously look at,” he said.

Weber said that secondary students can transfer now for academic reasons.

“The concern is the lower level,” he said, raising a student welfare issue. “(We are) going to see this hopping take place.”

The policy with the proposed changes will be considered at the May meeting, at which point it seems likely an effort will be made to expand the policy.


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