For about 20 years, the Appoquinimink School District has declined nearly all enrollment requests from students who live in other districts.
That will change in the 2014-2015 school year when a new law passed by the Delaware General Assembly in June will take effect, requiring all public school districts to accept out-of-district enrollments in any school with available capacity.
“The state pays up 75 percent of the funding, so if that’s what they want, that’s what we’ll do,” said Richard Forsten, the vice president of the Appoquinimink school board. “If the economy starts to pick up again, and housing starts to pick up again, there’s not going to be room for students to choice into Appoquinimink. But right now, there is.”
On Tuesday, the school board is expected to approve a new set of procedures that will – for the first time – establish the criteria and method by which Appoquinimink will allow students to “choice” into and out of local schools.
Those procedures will then be applied almost immediately as the district begins accepting school choice applications for the 2014-2015 school year starting next month.
As required by law, students will only be allowed to choice in to schools below 85 percent of “instructional capacity,” a term that excludes non-classroom space and allows district officials to exempt floor space dedicated to certain programs like world languages and computer labs.
If applied to the current school year, that capacity limit would allow for 245 school choice slots in six of the district’s 16 schools, including Spring Meadow and Townsend early childhood centers, Brick Mill and Bunker Hill elementary schools, Everett Meredith Middle and Middletown High schools. However, those numbers do not take into account new feeder patterns that will go into effect next year when the district is slated to re-open Townsend Elementary School.
A more accurate estimation of school choice slots available next year is expected to be released later this month, district officials said.
School choice applications received by the Jan. 9 deadline will be put through a screening process in which the district can deny students based on disciplinary or attendance issues during the prior school year.
Applications to each school will then be evaluated based on five criteria with the highest priority given to returning choice students, followed by the siblings of students already in the school, the children of district employees, students who already live in the district but want to attend a different school and finally, students residing outside the district.
In the event there are more applications than available seats within a given category at a given school, a computer lottery will be used to determine who gets in, with remaining students placed on a waiting list.
Page 2 of 2 - Students who are allowed to choice in to a school will be asked to stay for at least two years, although the district can rescind its choice approval for the following year if a student fails a grade, fails to comply with district attendance policy or incurs multiple disciplinary actions.
New school choice applications also must be approved every time a student moves to a new building, such as from an elementary to middle school or a middle school to a high school.
While Appoquinimink has not allowed students to “choice in” from outside of the district, it has made provisions in the past for elementary and middle school students to relocate within the district, and it’s made exceptions for the children of district staff.
Those allowances resulted in about 800 applications this year and district officials say they expect to receive nearly twice that number this fall when students from outside the district are allowed to apply.
Forsten said he does not believe allowing out-of-district students to choice into to Appoquinimink will have a noticeable impact at most schools, while it could be a boon at others.
“If we had choice, and enough kids had choiced in to this district at the elementary level, we probably could have had Townsend Elementary School open this year,” he said. “There are certain fixed costs associated with having a school, so if we can spread those costs out over more students, so much the better, because that allows you to spend more of your money on the classroom rather than the overhead costs.”
An informational meeting about school choice will be held at 7 p.m. on Oct. 28 in the Alfred G. Waters Middle School auditorium at 1235 Cedar Lane Road.