Area educators keep eye on open enrollment law

By Dick Mason, The Observer April 03, 2013 10:13 am

by DICK MASON / The Observer 

Enterprise, Wallowa districts would be impacted by changes in the new law

Oregon’s new open enrollment law for public schools, which took effect in 2012, does not expire for four years but it already is receiving close scrutiny from lawmakers.

Legislators are debating whether the law should be renewed after 2017, and, if so, should it be overhauled.  

Educators who believe the law has definite pluses in its current form include Brad Royse, superintendent of the Enterprise School District.

“It provides parents and students with more options,” Royse said.

The Enterprise School District is one of only two districts in Union and Wallowa counties which presently would be impacted by changes in the new law. The second is the Wallowa School District. 

Enterprise and Wallowa are the lone school districts in the Union-Wallowa county area offering open enrollment under the rules of the 2012 law. The Imbler, North Powder, Cove and Joseph school districts also have open enrollment as charter school districts. All charter school districts must provide open enrollment but are not affected by Oregon’s open enrollment law.

The new Oregon statute permits any student to transfer to a school district which has an open enrollment policy. The single catch is that students are permitted to transfer only to school districts in which the quota set for open enrollment transfers has not been filled. 

The Enterprise and Wallowa school districts each have 10-student open enrollment quotas.

 The Enterprise School Board voted to have open enrollment two years ago, and the Wallowa School Board voted to do the same in January. Wallowa has not yet been impacted by the open enrollment law since students will not be able to transfer to Wallowa under it until the 2013-14 school year. The sign-up period for open enrollment students is in the spring. 

Enterprise and Wallowa both set open enrollment limits of five students for the kindergarten through sixth-grade category and five students for grades 7-12. 

The Enterprise School District easily reached its cap limit. Royse said the school district could have accepted several more transfer students beyond its cap level. All of Enterprise’s open enrollment transfer students were from Wallowa County. 

One complication Enterprise has confronted involves high school athletics. Not all high school students transferring to the Enterprise School District under the open enrollment law are eligible to participate in athletic under Oregon School Activities Association rules.

“We tell students before they transfer whether they will be eligible for athletics,” Royse said.

In some cases, students find they will not meet eligibility requirements and decide not to transfer to Enterprise. Other students learned they would have to attend the Enterprise School District for a year before they would be eligible for athletics and decided to do so.

Royse and Bret Uptmor, superintendent of the Wallowa School District, both said a cap of 10 was selected because their districts could easily absorb this many additional students with the resources they have. Royse said his district’s cap limit is structured to prevent his schools from being overwhelmed by an influx of students, particularly at one grade level. 

Uptmor echoed this sentiment. 

“Five (at both the high school and grade school) seemed like a reasonable number to work with,” Uptmor said. 

Open enrollment school districts are required to accept all transfer students applying before a district’s cap limit is reached. 

Royse said Enterprise has had few problems with the open enrollment law as it now stands, but he knows this is not the case everywhere.

 “It definitely is working well for us, but I know there are a lot of districts that are having problems with it,” he said.