High school board vows to help ‘outliers’
The El Dorado Union High School District board of trustees is willing to address aberrations in the 2005 school boundaries that prevent a handful of “outlying” middle school students from attending high school with their classmates.
But they’re not convinced that Trustee Kevin Brown’s proposed “95-5” policy is the best or only solution.
Brown proposed a softening of the district’s strict intra-district transfer policy in middle schools where at least 95 percent of the graduates feed into a single high school. The 5 percent or less of outlying students would be allowed to transfer if the target high school remained below capacity.
The board wants any policy or boundary changes to also bolster enrollment at under-populated Union Mine High School, which is projected to drop from 1,073 students in 2010-11 to 772 in 2017-18, according to the district’s 2011-12 Demographic Study.
Before any of that, the administration must plan for the possibility that Union Mine and El Dorado High School will be deemed “program improvement” schools under provisions of the federal “No Child Left Behind” legislation, forcing the district to open enrollment out of those schools as soon as mid-November.
Despite their healthy API scores, the schools failed to demonstrate improvement in the special education sub-population last year. If this year’s scores, due from the state on Aug. 31, don’t reverse that trend, and if the state is not granted a requested waiver, the district could be forced to open enrollment as soon as November.
Ponderosa High School and the Shenandoah Charter School have been identified as the schools that would receive those students.
The trustees held a meaningful discussion on enrollment issues in July, and asked Superintendent Chris Hoffman to return with information that assesses the impact of the problems and potential solutions.
At the Aug. 22 board meeting, Assistant Superintendent Steve Volmer responded with a meaty statistical stew, served up in easily digestible portions:
1. Student capacity at each of the four large “comprehensive” high schools
2. Projected student counts from each feeder middle school to each comprehensive high school
3. Potential impact of allowing outlying middle school students to attend high school with their classmates
4. Results of Union Mine’s limited open enrollment policy in 2011-12
5. Draft transfer policy language to accomplish No. 3 and also expand transfers into Union Mine.
With help from Ken Reynolds of SchoolWorks, the district’s school statistician, Volmer explained how school capacities are calculated and clarified some invalid assumptions in SchoolWorks’ 2011-12 Demographic Study which overstated capacities in three of the four schools:
School: Original → Revised
El Dorado: 1,494 → 1,509
Oak Ridge: 2,388 → 2,361
Ponderosa: 2,196 → 2,181
Union Mine: 1,470 → 1,428
Volmer sliced up middle school demographic data and projected a mere 11 outlying seventh graders that would be separated from their classmates as high school freshman, three from Pleasant Grove that would be sent to Oak Ridge instead of Ponderosa and eight from Rolling Hills or Marina Village that would be sent to Ponderosa instead of Oak Ridge.
The Demographic Study’s growth projections for the district, as interpreted by SchoolWorks and Volmer, show the number of outliers attending either Ponderosa or Oak Ridge growing to 13 and 26 in the subsequent two years.
Most Camerado Springs Middle School students attend Ponderosa, but 18 seventh graders and 10 sixth graders live within Union Mine boundaries. That’s too many to qualify for the proposed “95-5” policy, but likely to be offered some transfer flexibility based on board comments last Wednesday night.
After hearing Volmer’s presentation board members reiterated their willingness to soften the district’s strict intra-transfer policies. Board President Tim Cary took it a step further suggesting that “minor tweaks” to school boundaries might be a preferred solution.
“I’m open now to tweaking boundaries and I’m certainly open to some kind of district-wide capacity-based transfer policy,” he said. “We’ve got the room, that’s what the data shows. Clearly when we have just five kids from a middle school attending a high school … that’s kind of funky.”
He asked Volmer to return with a boundary map showing the location of the outliers. He also asked for parent and faculty input.
The board concluded that any policy or boundary changes should support flagging Union Mine enrollment. Volmer recapped the results of a limited Union Mine open enrollment policy in 2011-12 which allowed permitted 32 of 58 requests for admittance, roughly half of which came from El Dorado.
Volmer suggested that Union Mines’s uncrowded rural charms might attract even more students if the board promoted the school and the open enrollment policy.
Concerned that the district might be forced to allow students to leave Union Mine or El Dorado on short notice, the board asked Hoffman and staff to draft an open enrollment policy that satisfied worst-case NCLB provisions as well.
Trustee Lori Veerkamp suggested that with so much on the table, the board should also consider a completely open enrollment policy that would allow any student to attend any high school, within current school capacities and assuming they could arrange their own transportation.
Cary reiterated that it was time to get input from the faculty and parents, and asked for a further analysis of a broad-based open enrollment policy, then apologized and left for the airport.
Brown praised Volmer’s presentation and said he appreciated the solution-based discussion. “I proposed 95-5 as a short-term solution, but if you think we can make a (boundary) decision fast enough …
“Obviously there’s a problem and it’s not as big as we thought,” he continued, suggesting that a transfer policy change was a simpler and more expedient process than a modest boundary change, which might blossom into “more of an extended process.”
Trustee Todd White, who admonished his fellow board members in July for dragging their feet on the enrollment and transfer issues, weighed in for short-term action via the transfer policy, while the boundary changes, no matter how minor, are being examined, noting, “The wheels of government can move incredibly slow.”
Hoffman countered that nothing would happen before the 2012-13 school year, “and we have to get it right.”
The board agreed that no students currently enrolled in high school would be forced to transfer, and that no major changes to district bus service were planned.
Several of the outliers live in the Greenbriar, Toll Brothers and Shea Homes subdivisions of Serrano. Two-plus hours into the August board meeting, Serrano Government Affairs Director Kirk Bone encouraged the board to advance their discussions “with all due haste.”
Serrano resident Catie Phemester was relieved at the board’s seeming willingness to take action that would let her two children attend Oak Ridge, but added, “I’ve been coming here three years and the numbers they got today haven’t changed. I guarantee you they won’t vote on this until after the election.”
Dave Delrio is vying for a seat on the board in November. After the meeting he criticized the board’s lack of action on a transfer policy, and accused Muse and Veerkamp, who he’ll be up against in November, of changing their position on the outlier issue over the last three meetings.
“Another school year just began and they could have helped a bunch of students,” he said. “There’s a whole lot of ‘let’s talk about it next meeting’ out of this board, but nothing gets resolved.”
Hoffman agreed to bring outlier maps and draft open enrollment language to the next board meeting, on Sept. 11 at 6 p.m., at 4675 Missouri Flat Road in Placerville.
He also asked the board to review the draft intra-district transfer policies included in Volmer’s presentation and provide feedback.