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Expanded School Choice Program Will Impact Elementary and Middle Schools

The School Committee voted unanimously at their April 24 meeting to expand the School Choice program in the School District. The School Committee plans to open 30 new seats in the District's classrooms and most of those will be at the elementary and middle school level.

The vote to proceed with expansion of School Choice followed a presentation a couple weeks about by Swallow Union Principal Peter Myerson who laid out the benefits of expanding the program. Currently, the School District enrolls 37 School Choice students and most of them - 30 - are placed at the high school.

The vote to expand School Choice will add 30 new students to the District and bring the total of School Choice students to 67. The 30 new students will be distributed among the District's schools in this manner: 16 at the elementary level (eight at the Swallow Union School and eight at the Florence Roche School), 10 at the middle school (two each at grades five and eight and three each at grades six and seven); and four at the high school. Myerson surveyed area districts and found that Chelmsford enrolled the fewest School Choice student at 15 while Harvard enrolled the most at 77.

The expansion of the School Choice program will partially offset declining enrollments and allow the District to maintain current programs without incurring incremental costs. It would also bring in an additional $150,000 in revenue as the School District gets reimbursed for School Choice student through Chapter 70 aid. In his report Myerson noted that adding 30 new School Choice students would not affect class size and that the District's past experience with School Choice students has been positive.

School Committee members had some questions in regard to expanding the program. Member John Giger said the District needs to be more transparent about the number of classroom seats available and who will get those seats.

Giger thought everyone should be given an equal chance at getting a seat. Superintendent Anthony Bent said there would be a lottery system if there were more students than seats available. School Committee member Jon Sjoberg wanted to know if the District will run into problems as the additional School Choice students progress through the different grade levels. Sjoberg noted that once admitted School Choice students would be treated like resident students.

Superintendent Bent indicated that would not be a problem.

In regard to allowing tuition students especially from out-of-state in neighboring New Hampshire, Myerson recommended that the issue receive further study. Myerson said the district may allow out-of-state tuition students but many questions arise such as appropriate charges for tuition, criteria for admission and MCAS questions. Myerson recommended that the administration create criteria for the program and bring a recommendation to the School Committee by December 2013.

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