By Seth Kinker, firstname.lastname@example.org
Last week during a bi-monthly meeting, the Chelsea Board of Education continued to discuss the topic of whether to have Chelsea become a school of choice for the 2018-2019 school year.
As the Chelsea School District has continued to lose students, and thus state funding, it has been looking at ways to offset the loss in funds. One of the quickest ways to do this would be school of choice, something every other school in Washtenaw County does.
“The reason we always have considered it, is every year we keep losing students,” said Anne Mann, President of the Board of Education and a member of the board for the past 13 years. “We’re trying to keep our programming up to where it has been, class sizes where they are and teachers around in the classroom. We’ve done a lot of homework this time. The door isn’t wide open and were trying to even out the numbers by adding limited school of choice, to bring more kids to the district. We had a key communicators meeting in March and the majority of the comments made us realize they didn’t realize we could limit it and bring in so many (students). After that, they got behind it and asked, ‘why we aren’t doing this?’”
There were two public comment periods at the June 11 Board of Education meeting, one at the beginning and one before the end. In between these two public comment periods was when the board took the time to discuss the topic amongst themselves.
Both public comment periods were filled with commentary about schools of choice. Community members voiced many different takes pertaining to the topic. Many spoke about how they had specifically come to the area because of the schools and how schools of choice had a potential to affect that.
Other input asked the board for an open house or the ability to see what a plan would look like to help bridge the gap with the community. There wasn’t necessarily a recommended way to bridge that gap, but public comment made it clear that they want to be heard before and during the momentous decision.
School of choice has been discussed in the district for the last ten years, and board members said they had done its due diligence in learning about the topic. They’ve had committee workshop meetings, information presented to them from Helber, and discussions with other districts and district administration about schools of choice. Helber has gathered a great deal of information on school of choice at the request of the board.
In addition to gathering information for the board, Helber has been meeting with various groups in the community to discuss school of choice while she and the rest of the board have been fielding emails, with both pros and cons, about the topic.
Helber wanted to use the board meeting to verbalize where they were in the decision with the board expected to vote on the issue at its next meeting June 25.
Helber and Mann both have addressed what they say are inaccuracies they have heard when it comes to the decision. Helber clarified that classroom numbers wouldn’t necessarily go up. Last week, Mann spoke to The Sun Times about some concerns that were brought to her that weren’t true.
“Some were under the perception that we would open our doors and give priority to athletics, that’s not true,” said Mann. “If we had more than one person for the slot we had open, it’s a lottery system. It’s not pick and choose. That’s the law with school of choice, you can’t hand pick your students. That’s one concern I heard, showing preference to and taking away slots from our children, that’s a misconception.”
Similar to Helber, Mann said she wasn’t necessarily a fan of school of choice herself, however, she also saw the benefits for the district.
“I think its beneficial for some kids,” said Mann. “Maybe they need a start at a new school, maybe they’re looking for a new program or AP class, or choir. There are things we can offer these kids maybe they’re not getting at another district. We have a lot to offer, if someone is looking for something we have, why not?
A key decision that was made concerning bringing up the topic for a vote at the next board meeting was the language of the recommendation. After discussion with the board at their meeting on June 11, Helber will include language in the recommendation for a cap on the number or percentage of students that would be allowed from outside the district if they chose to do school of choice.