Chelsea Superintendent Julie Helber Presents School of Choice





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By Seth Kinker, skinker@thesuntimesnews.com

Last week during the regular Chelsea Board of Education meeting, teachers from the district and Superintendent Julie Helber presented information to the board about the district’s strategic framework, their Graduate Learner Profile, foundation allowance, enrollment and open enrollment/Schools of Choice.

Chelsea’s Graduate Learner Profile is a graphic that depicts qualities the district wants their students to have – specifically the four “C” of strong communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking



First, teachers went over the four goals with action items on how they work each district goal into their curriculum and how it aligned with the Graduate Learner Profile and the District Improvement Plan.

Next Helber discussed the State Foundation Allowance, the main source of revenue, and enrollment. The current per-pupil allowance, which reached a high in the 2009-09 school year of $7,650 per student, before decreasing by 6.17%  to $7,470 per student in 2011-12, has increased every year since 2013,  and was back to a high in 2017 $7,664.

In 2008 Chelsea Schools had 2,641 students and by 2017 enrollment fell by 197. Causes for the decline in enrollment ranged from job loss and people moving out of the area, lack of available housing, low birth rates, and the economic decline in 2010.

Reduced enrollment resulting in reduced revenue has led surrounding districts to offer school of choice enrollment. Districts in Washtenaw County that participate in one form of open enrollment or another include Ann Arbor, Dexter, Lincoln Consolidated, Manchester, Milan, Saline, Whitmore Lake, and Ypsilanti.

Chelsea School District does not allow open enrollment.

Helber discussed practical and philosophical considerations for open enrollment – but the numbers speak for themselves. Each student lost or gained gives or takes $7,664 to the district. In 2016-17 the Chelsea School District was down 55 students, after projecting being down only 20 resulting in a revenue loss of $414,975.

In 2017 –  the 197 student loss totaled a revenue loss of $1,123,962.

Helber discussed the different forms of enrollment, allowing students from certain districts to come to Chelsea as well as how many students would be allowed. The district can choose from different options depending on how they want to approach it, they can allow limited or unlimited nonresident enrollment, which means allowing as little as one student per grade level or allowing all grades with no limits on the number of students. The district can opt out of school of choice at any time but must finish the year with what they first stated.

Although not a self-proclaimed fan of school of choice, Helber presented the idea to the board as a practical solution. She spoke about being more on the offensive, stating her concerns for the district’s long-term financial stability. Helber told the board that school of choice was the quickest way to bring revenue to the district and that opening to school of choice wouldn’t necessarily mean classroom numbers would increase.

The revenue could secure the school fund balance resulting in wage increases and increasing and/or stabilizing programming for students explained Halber.

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Seth Kinker

Reporter/Digital Media for The Sun Times News

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