By SHERRI KOLADE
DEARBORN — The Dearborn Board of Education Dec. 10 voted 6-0 to make the Dearborn Public Schools a Schools of Choice district to help alleviate a projected $5.5 million deficit next year.
The board voted to allow six kindergarten students from any of Wayne County’s 34 school districts to attend Nowlin Elementary School, 23600 Penn St. The district will receive almost $1 million from the state as a result of the move.
Trustee Pamela Adams did not attend the meeting but said she would have voted in favor of the porposal.
The Schools of Choice provisions of the State School Aid gives local school districts the option to enroll non-resident students and count them in its respective districts.
The Schools of Choice program is one of the eight Best Practices the Michigan Department of Education has defined. The MDE wants school districts to complete seven out of eight Best Practices criteria to receive funding.
The state will pay $80 million based on $52 per pupil for the 2012-13 school year to local school districts and public school academies that meet certain criteria after Gov. Rick Synder enacted the State School Aid Act, which gives funding to school districts. DPS has 19,100 students.
By next year, DPS will receive $993,200 for fulfilling seven out of eight Best Practices criteria; the state will distribute the funds to DPS based on a payment schedule once the MDE determines that the district has met the Best Practices requirements.
School district administrators chose Nowlin as a School of Choice because it can accommodate more students than other schools. The school also is located near other school districts in cities such as Dearborn Heights and Taylor.
Parents who want to enroll their children in Nowlin have until Jan. 9 to do so.
Applications to attend Nowlin are available at www.dearbornschools.org or at the Student Services Office, 18700 Audette. Applications may be returned to Student Services by 4:30 p.m. Jan. 9.
The district will let parents know if their children are chosen to attend Nowlin and enrollment will start on Jan. 14. Classes start on Jan. 28.
If fewer than six applications are submitted, the children will automatically attend Nowlin. If more than six are received the Student Services Office will hold a random lottery to select six students.
Once six students are chosen, the students will be split into two separate classes.
As of Friday, no one has applied for open enrollment at Nowlin.
DPS Communications Coordinator David Mustonen said the school district is looking at a $5.5 million deficit by mid 2013 and the funding helps alleviate it.
“This $1 million helps to bring the overall number down,” Mustonen said. “We’ve got a million dollars at stake and we can keep people working, which means we don’t have to lay off people and things like that.”
Mustonen said he has heard complaints from others about opening up Dearborn schools to non-district students.
“We take ownership of the schools,” Mustonen said. “The community in Dearborn has been very protective of its schools and expressed that they don’t want their district open because ‘We want our kids going here.’”
Mustonen said the community has shared their opinions with the school board and Supt. Brian Whiston over many years.
“The board members are elected by the people and they want to do what the feelings of the community are,” Mustonen said. “That is why this was a tough decision.”
Mustonen said because the school has had 26 years of consecutive growth in school enrollment — and the schools are at capacity — the district has not needed to fill the schools with students from outside the district.
Nowlin Elementary School Principal Rita Rauch said she looks forward to having non-district students attend her school.
“It is a great opportunity for students coming into our district,” Rauch said. “I think we have a great district and a great opportunity for the district with potential for being open to Schools of Choice.”
Currently 209 students are enrolled at Nowlin and two kindergarten classes have 17 students each.
Rauch said having 34 kindergarten students in two classrooms leaves the classrooms with room for growth.
Adams said she originally wasn’t in favor of opening up the district to non-district students.
“If you open (up the district) for a few you’ve opened up Pandora’s box,” Adams said.
Adams said she was hesitant at first about opening up the district to Schools of Choice because residents have spent a lot of money to upgrade buildings.
“People from the outside don’t share on taxes so (residents) have not been in favor of the Schools of Choice until now because state funds are attached,” Adams said. “We are not in a position to turn down any money and if we can continue to limit the number of students where space is available I can live with it. I understand the rationale but it is not my first choice.”
Mustonen said he does not know if the district will open up more schools to non-district students in the future.
“This was a one-time kind of offer that we are able to do and right now we are not looking at doing this in any more classes,” Mustonen said.