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Saturday, August 17th, 2013

St. Marys schools' enrollment steady despite cuts

By Amy Kronenberger

First-grade teacher April Braun decorates the door to her classroom this week in. . .

ST. MARYS - Enrollment at St. Marys City Schools has remained level despite concern recent cuts would lead parents to move their children to other districts.
Preliminary open enrollment numbers for the upcoming school year show 102 students in the St. Marys district enrolling at other schools. Last year, 103 students went elsewhere.
This year's list is still incomplete, however, according to superintendent Shawn Brown, who is awaiting numbers from Botkins, Coldwater, Continental, Jackson Center and Shawnee.
Last year, five students open-enrolled to Botkins, two went to Coldwater and one each went to Continental, Jackson Center and Shawnee. If those numbers stay the same, the number of students leaving St. Marys will be 112.
Brown said he expected more students to leave after nearly $1.5 million in cuts were made by board of education members in May. Reductions were made effective after the five-year, combined 5-mill property, 1 percent earned income tax was defeated in the primary election by 60 percent of voters.
Some people speculated a much greater flight from the district.
"There were a lot of people who threatened to open enroll, and we have had some transfer in the last few weeks," St. Marys first-grade teacher April Braun said. "But it certainly isn't what people thought."
Braun said she was very happy that most families decided to stick with St. Marys and added that she and the other teachers have been working hard to prepare for a great school year.
St. Marys parent Chris Lochard considered enrolling her children elsewhere but decided to give the district another chance.
"It could still happen next year but I want to see how things work out in St. Marys first," she said. "I think with the right cuts and right administration, we can turn things around. My fingers are crossed. I feel that we have a school worth fighting for, and I hope others feel the same way."
Classes eliminated include FFA/vocational agriculture, French and family consumer science programs. The business manager position and several secretary jobs were eliminated. Busing was reduced to state minimum - no busing for high school students or students living within two miles of the school - and a pay to participate program for extracurricular activities was implemented.
Jennifer Schuller open-enrolled her two daughters, a senior and a fifth-grader, to Spencerville. Her oldest daughter wanted to transfer due to the elimination of FFA and vo-ag programs, she said.
"My oldest daughter demanded that we open-enroll her," she said. "Both know kids at Spencerville. At this time I doubt my youngest will want to go back (if St. Marys reinstates its programs), which is OK with me."
Numbers show the district has become less attractive to students looking for a new school.
Last year, 57 students from other districts open-enrolled to St. Marys. This year, only 32 are going to the land of the Roughriders. Within the 25 student difference, nine either graduated or moved into the St. Marys district and are no longer open-enrolled.
The district receives about $5,500 for every incoming student and loses the same amount for a student who transfers out. St. Marys will receive approximately $137,500 less in state funding this year due to the loss of students.
Members of Citizens for the Improvement of St. Marys Schools have been trying to persuade the board to reinstate some cuts, particularly busing. However, without an increase in revenue, specifically a new levy, Brown has said reinstating the programs would not be possible.
Many members of the group said they still do not trust the board and administration enough to pass another levy. Group member Deb Vining said she voted no in May and hasn't changed her mind.
"As long as the school keeps doing the things they are doing, there is no future for our kids here, and I won't agree to give them more money to keep wasting," she said. "They have already showed us what they think of our kids by taking away busing after they promised they wouldn't."
Fellow group member Rob Pence said if the board reinstated busing, worked to develop a better public image and lowered their levy request to a 3-mill, 3-year property tax with no income tax, they could get it passed.
Lochard said she voted yes for the levy in May but is now undecided on how she would vote on another.
"With state minimum busing even the kids I babysit for can't ride the bus, which in turn cuts my income, but the BOE wants me to approve another levy, (that's) not gonna happen when I'm losing my income," she said. "I also feel our administrators should take a $5,000 pay cut and pay 25 to 35 percent for their health insurance."
The board did not place a levy on the Nov. 5 ballot, but members have said they will need to try again in the future.
Jennifer Vorhees said she voted yes in May and "would certainly vote yes again."
"I am living in the present and for the future and my four kids who are all in school," she said. "I think there are serious problems with our BOE both past and present and quite frankly with several of our current school administrators ... but I still have to look at what my kids are losing and look at what this busing issue has done to our community."
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