2017-10-19 / Views

Schools-of-Choice adds wrinkle to expansions

The results of competition are not always pretty, but in the long run they should be efficient and economical.

Try weighing those factors while comparing the recent state school district enrollment counts and plans by Leland Public School to spend $15 million to $23 million to update and expand its “school on the hill.”

Overall enrollment at the four public districts wholly or mostly within Leelanau County stood at 1,840 students. That’s eight students less than a year ago, and 44 students fewer than in 2015.

The overall count continues a downward trend that started 15-20 years ago — the last time county school districts went on a building streak.

Today Northport and Suttons Bay carry the weight of unused classrooms and under-utilized facilities. Suttons Bay, in fact, is paying to maintain an unoccupied middle school wing that the district would rather raze.

Meanwhile, Glen Lake and Leland have cut off school-of-choice students. Glen Lake last year built a state-of-theart media center, updated its athletic complex including installing controversial artificial turf on the football field, and is looking into building a performing arts center.

And Leland, which is bursting at the seems, is weighing the needs, expense and public acceptance of three proposals ranging from minimalist to a major upgrade.

“Proposal C” at Leland calls for 57,700 square feet of new construction including a new gym and two-story elementary wing.

What concerns us is that about 40 percent of the 512 students studying at Leland come from outside the district. One-third of students at Glen Lake are “school of choice.”

It’s quite a compliment to the education provided by Leland and Glen Lake that so many parents would strain their schedules and in some cases budgets to get their kids to a distant school.

Meanwhile, another player has muscled into the competition for students, Leelanau Montessori Public School Academy. Its move next fall into the Connie Binsfeld Resource Center will change the perception of Montessori education on the peninsula as its enrollment expands to preschool through eighth grade.

We’re not ready to judge the Leland Public School proposals as risky, though. Leland Public School has proven popular mostly because of the success stories of its students, who as a whole regularly test better than their peers. Glen Lake pupils, too, have through the years fared well on state-mandated tests.

So we’re thankful that parents are given choices in determining such an important factor in the outcomes of their children.

Future need should weigh into decisions to expand school facilities.

But what happens should parents decide in future years that their school-of-choice sons and daughters would be better off attending classes in their home district?

How do you predict the choices of thousands of future parents?

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