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School Board members differ over student transfer policy

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By LILY REX

The Duneland School Board is planning to revise its policy on accepting out of district transfer students by early next year.

The Board agreed on two things at its meeting last night: taking transfer students isn’t and shouldn’t be about the money, and the policy on accepting transfers requires better management.

Last night was the first time the transfer student policy was featured on a DSB agenda since Board Secretary Ronald Stone suggested the Board discuss the matter at its July 16 meeting.

Resident of the Duneland School District Jennifer Gregoline spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting before new business was discussed. She recalled when the enrollment policy was changed to admit transfer students in 2014 and urged the Board to be thorough this time around.

Gregoline said she wanted to know why the matter hadn’t been discussed yet, and she wanted to see “open transparent discussion” tonight. “I would like to know if you’ve done studies,” she said. “What are the positives to the taxpayers and to the students who go to the schools and live in the district?”

Board President John Marshall said that each Board member would weigh-in on the policy, and he began. Marshall said, “I like the fact that we have open enrollment.”

Marshall said he supports open enrollment for out of district transfer students because Duneland gives nearby students an option to choose a better education, and it means a lot to him that Duneland’s excellence can be shared with those who don’t live in the district. The money is not a factor. “The fact that we give those kids and those parents that opportunity, it gives me a good feeling. I look at the money that follows the student as a bonus,” he said.

Marshall continued, “It means a lot to me; however, it was not supposed to be without some type of control on the numbers. There are controls the board can put on those numbers, and I don’t think we’ve done a very good job of that.”

Stone said he’s on the other side of the fence. Stone said he wouldn’t be opposed to a compromise where open enrollment at Duneland had a limited scope, but he’s been uncomfortable from the start with the lack of discussion and action to manage the policy. He also expressed concern that the Board would ask for taxpayer support for a student population with a lot of students who don’t live in the district.

“I’m worried about our kids, our teachers, and our facilities,” Stone said. “It’s not that I don’t feel sorry if another kid has issues, but I’m a school board member for this community, I’m not a school board member for Gary, Michigan City, or LaPorte.” He added, “If we’re doing it for money, we’re doing it for the wrong reasons.”

Member Michael Trout, for his part, said Duneland has had to compete fiercely with online schools, and open enrollment is a way of being competitive. “I think we have a damn good product here, so let’s compete. If we want to survive in this environment here, we need to compete.”

Trout also agreed that there are a lot of things that need ironing out, and emphasized that the Board will make its decisions for changing the policy based on objective facts.

Member Kristin Kroeger said that the issue isn’t about the money for her either. “Curricular considerations are really weighing heavy on our minds right now,” she said, and gave an example. If Duneland were to introduce a foreign language at the elementary level, then taking transfer students in middle school might not make sense. She noted that Duneland is forming a district culture, and “If we have a district culture, and we accept kids who have no idea what the culture is, that’s putting extra stress on our teachers” and it isn’t good for the would-be transfer students either.

Kroeger brought up class size, saying that the transfer student policy calls into question what constitutes a full class, and Stone interjected. “If a teacher can get 14 or 18 kids, I think that’s just great. It’s great for me, it’s great for the teacher. It’s great for everybody,” Stone said.

Earlier, Gregoline brought up a July Chesterton Tribune article featuring numbers that Assistant Superintendent for Operations and Human Resources Monte Moffet presented on how much money Duneland gets and loses from transfer students. Kroeger said the finances are very complicated, but “to say that we’re losing money on transfers is simply not correct.” Kroeger noted that the Board asked Moffet to compile those numbers as a means of measuring the impact of the transfer student policy, and getting more transfer students doesn’t reduce funding anywhere in the budget.

She further said that some of Duneland’s transfer students have turned out to be its most accomplished graduates, and she cares about that over money.

“I think all of us would agree that the policy, how its written today, the best way of describing it is confusing. It’s a hodgepodge of the old policy and the new policy,” Kroeger added.

Board Vice-president Brandon Kroft said he agrees the Board needs to rein-in the policy, but that might not mean closing enrollment totally. “My personal opinion is we’ve gone kind of far off from where we started, and we’ve got too many kids now,” he said, adding that it should come down to what’s best for taxpayers.

Stone clarified his stance on children of staff coming to Duneland. “I want our teachers to have their kids coming to our school. We don’t have to worry about that. If we did close it right now, whoever is here stays here, along with their siblings. We’re not denying anybody if we did close it tonight.”

Stone was the most vocal of the Board members, saying he would vote to close enrollment right then.

A vote wasn’t the plan, though. Marshall reported the Board is collecting research to decide on how to change the policy. He reported those changes will likely be made in January or February of 2019.

“There is one issue that all five board members are clear on, and that is that we want what’s best for the Duneland students and the Duneland community,” Marshall said. “We’ll come back to you after the first of the year with a solid plan.”

Kroft also took a moment to say he appreciated Gregoline’s comments. “We get inundated with social media comments with what we do, and nobody shows up. So, I appreciate you coming here to raise your questions.”

 

Posted 9/18/2018

 
 
 
 

 

 

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