Open enrollment could more than double for the 2020-2021 school year after the Prior Lake-Savage Area Schools Board voted 6-1 to increase the number of new students allowed to enroll in all grade levels Monday.
Under the new limits, open enrollment will be capped at 100 new students for kindergarten, 20 new students in each grade 1-5, 90 new students among the middle school grades and 120 in the high school.
That’s up to more than 400 new out-of-district students this year, though administrators said they doubt they’ll hit the cap any time soon.
The district for the past three years limited new open enrollment to 75 kindergartners and 1% of total enrollment at each grade level, which for middle and high school comes to around seven students per grade this school year. That comes to about 150 new students this school year.
The caps apply to new open enrollment only; students who joined a year or more previously don’t count against them. This year’s open enrollment topped 1,100 students altogether, or about one-eighth of total enrollment.
District officials proposed the new limits as a way to cover $2 million gap in the budget from lower-than-expected resident enrollment this school year. For several weeks the board has debated open enrollment and its impact of both district financials and student achievement.
If every new open enrollment slot filled, it’d bring at least $1.6 million more in state aid than under the previous limits.
The board was split on whether more open enrollment was a good idea for the district.
Directors Michael Nelson and Johnathan Drewes voiced support for greater open enrollment, saying the district should use open enrollment to fill open seats. Several directors also spoke in support of open enrollment in general.
“This is Minnesota’s answer to school choice, it’s open enrollment,” Vice Chairwoman Stacey Ruelle said. “That no family should be subject to just where their zip code is. So I am a strong believer in open enrollment to allow people to go school where they want to.”
Director Mary Frantz pushed for the board to consider limits informed by building and classroom capacities. Director Melissa Enger voted against the changes, arguing they didn’t fit with the feedback she received from families.
“This is a revenue lever, but the other way is tightening our belts and living within our means as opposed to opening the flood gates to folks outside of our district,” Enger said. “It’s irrational to make the decision to open to more than we’ve done in the past years.”
In other business, the board passed its 2020-2021 $33.8 million tax levy with a unanimous vote. At that amount the levy is set to increase $412,519 or about 1.24% over last year’s property tax levy.
Most homeowners won’t see an increase in the school portion of the property tax due to an increased adjusted net tax capacity, Business Services Executive Director Julie Cink said.