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Published: Monday, 3/21/2005

Arlington eyes policy of open enrollment


ARLINGTON, Ohio - When Arlington Local Schools asked for a levy to build an addition to the school in 1991, officials promised voters they wouldn't open the doors to students from neighboring districts.

The district was growing, and taxpayers wanted to know they were building classrooms for Arlington children.

Fourteen years later, enrollment has declined by nearly 15 percent and the Board of Education has changed its attitude toward open enrollment.

The board will meet at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday to consider accepting students from neighboring districts for the 2005-06 school year, said Superintendent Dave Rossman.

"It's a financial situation," he said. Six of the eight other districts in Hancock County have open enrollment, which means Arlington loses students to Findlay City Schools and other nearby districts.

This year, 24 Arlington students attend other schools through open enrollment. With them goes about $5,000 apiece in state funding.

"We're at the point where it's costing our taxpayers almost 3 mills in funding going out from students going elsewhere," said Thomas Marquart, board president. "You're not going back on something you said back then. Things have changed."

Mr. Marquart said with open enrollment, the district can fill the empty seats in some classrooms without adding staff or incurring other costs.

"We felt we could be more efficient if we were to begin open enrollment now," he said, adding, "People feel that it's time."

Nearly 69 percent of Ohio's 647 school districts have open enrollment, according to the Ohio Department of Education.

The only district in Hancock County that does not offer open enrollment is Liberty-Benton Local Schools. Superintendent Dennis Recker said enrollment there has been increasing, and the 1,374-student district simply lacks the room to open its doors to students from other districts.

"It's a bite financially," he said, because about 82 Liberty-Benton students attend other schools, taking with them more than $400,000 in state funding.

"All the other schools in the county have declining enrollment, and it helps them recoup that cost," he said. "In our district, it has the opposite effect. It's really a tough call."

Contact Jennifer Feehan at: jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-353-5972.

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