2017-07-20 / Front Page

G-L may limit new students

36% of students come from elsewhere
By Amy Hubbell
Of The Enterprise staff

Leelanau County’s largest school district is considering closing its doors to Schools of Choice (SOC) students.

The Glen Lake Board of Education on Monday night discussed closing its enrollment to SOC students, who currently represent a whopping 36 percent of its student body.

The move would not impact families currently enrolled through SOC.

Historically, school policy has been to welcome students provided their addition wouldn’t bring class size to a level that would require creation of another section and hiring another teacher.

Once accepted, the student is allowed to complete his or her high school education at Glen Lake, and siblings may enroll at Glen Lake at a later time.

“Once you were in, you’re in,” board President Fran Seymour said.

But a number of factors, including the swirling talk of budget cuts in Washington, have the School Board and administrators rethinking the SOC policy.

Budgets submitted by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and President Donald J. Trump do not include funding for Impact Aid, a federal program that compensates the district for property taxes lost due to the creation of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Glen Lake receives $3.2 million each year in Impact Aid, which contributes to the district’s hefty fund balance, which as of June 30 totaled $14.7 million.

The school district is also rare in that it doesn’t depend on state per pupil foundation allowance to operate. That’s because Glen Lake is one of a handful of school districts in the state that can generate more revenue locally through property taxes than they receive from the state allowance.

However, the number of students from outside the school district receiving instruction is gobbling up a larger portion of the district’s budget each year.

Of the 717 students who last year attended Glen Lake Community Schools, more than a third came from outside district lines. For each of the 93 students who left Glen Lake to attend school elsewhere last year, the district gained 2.76 students through SOC. The bulk of these students come from Benzie Central and Traverse City Area Public Schools.

Those students don’t bring their state foundation allowance with them, leaving Glen Lake to foot the bill for their education.

“We receive zero dollars for them,” Seymour said.

According to financial analysis software provided free of charge through the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District, Glen Lake operates at a $1.5 million structural deficit when Impact Aid is not considered.

Discussion Monday also touched on the longterm cost the current policy has on the district.

“Once they’re allowed, we’re obligated to teach them K-12,” board president Seymour said. “If we lose our Impact Aid … we’ll be in big trouble.”

Superintendent Scott agreed.

“From a financial standpoint, we could be taking kids on for the next 13 years or up to age 26 for others with special needs,” Scott said.

Seymour and Scott said the district needs to develop a long-term SOC strategy.

Meanwhile, another deadline looms large for Glen Lake.

State law dictates that the district’s decide whether they’ll be accepting new SOC students by the second Friday in August.

School Board trustees discussed developing a more conservative SOC plan given the overall downward trend in student numbers in the Grand Traverse area.

In 2008, Glen Lake’s enrollment stood at 828. Nine years later, enrollment is expected to be about 720 if new SOC students are not enrolled. During the 2018-19 school year, enrollment is forecast to drop to 680 students.

“I think it’s really short-sighted to cut the (SOC) students,” Trustee Lisa Siddall said. “The birth rate is expected to decline and young families can’t afford to live here … Obviously, this board is not worried about money. We just approved an $800,000 turf football field.”

The Board of Education has scheduled a special meeting for 7 a.m. next Wednesday, July 26, to discuss whether the district will accept new SOC families this year.

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