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FPS Board of Education discusses school choice options

By: Jonathan Shead | Farmington Press | Published December 27, 2019

File photo by Deb Jacques

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FARMINGTON/FARMINGTON HILLS — School choice was once again the topic of discussion at the Dec. 17 Farmington Public Schools Board of Education meeting.

The district currently offers three school choice options for residents and nonresidents.

The intra-district option allows students in kindergarten through eighth grade to cross assigned district lines and choose the school they’d like to attend.

Under the Michigan Public Act 227 of 2004 option, which is open to all grade levels, children of nonresident employees of the district can attend Farmington Public Schools.

Under Section 105 of the State School Aid Act, kindergarten through eighth grade students from the same intermediate school district — in this case, the Oakland Intermediate School District — can attend the district’s schools. Section 105 is closed to students in grades nine through 12.

Assistant Superintendent Aaron Johnson, who is the leader of the school choice committee for FPS, said the district has to reintroduce and vote on school choice options yearly. If approved, the proposal would go into effect for the 2020-2021 school year.

“The only thing that has changed from this year is that we were petitioning to lower the number of spots that we are offering,” Johnson said. “We offered 40 spots per grade level (last year).”

This year, the district will offer 25 spots per grade level for kindergarten through eighth grade, plus an additional 40 seats maximum for waitlisted students. Intra-district students will receive first priority, followed by PA 227 students and then Section 105 students. If the applications received by the district exceed the 25 spot limit, a lottery will determine which students are accepted.

“None of our grade levels had students that came in from Section 105 that was above the number 25. That was one (reason),” he said. “The other reason is that we are actually getting close to being at capacity at our elementary level. In order to make sure we can properly maintain those levels — obviously, we won’t go above, but if we offer 40 (spots) then we have to place 40. We are not at a place where we can bring in 40 more (students) because of space. We don’t want to put ourselves at a disadvantage.”

All school choice options in the district exclude the Farmington Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math Academy because attendance at that school is reserved for resident students and is already determined by a lottery system.

The district can only deny a school choice applicant access to the district if they have had previous disciplinary issues in the past, Superintendent Robert Herrera said at the Dec. 17 meeting.  No other criteria must be met by students for consideration.

“There has to be space available. … If it’s a special education student, we have to accept them regardless of their status. We can’t deny with regard to gender, race, socioeconomic or other factors,” Johnson said.

Board of Education Trustee Terry Weems expressed her concerns at the meeting about the district’s current school choice options not extending into the high school level, specifically in regard to the intra-district component. Other trustees echoed Weems’ comments.

Johnson said the primary reason the options don’t extend to high school students is to ensure attendance levels at each high school stay balanced and don’t negatively affect staffing ratios. He said the district saw this occur firsthand with the closing of Harrison High School, with more students selecting to attend Farmington High School, “which has presented some challenges there.”

Despite the districtwide cutoff, Johnson said administrators still make decisions on a case-by-case basis.

“Personally, I’d like to see this go through 12th grade. I appreciate the consideration for the ninth grade year, where you want to make sure you have enough room in each class, but I’d like to see some flexibility in letting kids who are already in our district, (and) are staying in our district … be allowed to stay in their high school,” Weems said at the Dec. 17 meeting.

Herrera agreed with Weems’ sentiment.

“Maybe we can mine down a little farther. I find it hard to believe we have that significant a number of high schoolers moving within the district that it’s creating an imbalance. To allow that student to remain with that high school program is probably very meaningful to the student,” he said.  “The worst case scenario is that they may not be eligible for transportation now. … Maybe we need to consider exploring further to see the level of impact it would have if we did create more parameters allowing children to stay at their high school.”

Johnson noted the concerns and later stated he plans to address those issues with his committee members before returning to the board for a final vote.

With the holiday season and break, he admitted it may be difficult for his committee to convene, and they may consider requesting an extension before the proposal returns to the board for a vote.

The board was expected to vote on school choice options Jan. 14. Board of Education President Pam Green said she doesn’t believe the concerns expressed by trustees will affect the board’s ability to vote Jan. 14, saying that the concerns aren’t directly related to school choice options, but rather potentially complementary issues that should be addressed when possible.

To view the full discussion on the topic, visit farmington.k12.mi.us/tv-10. For more information on Michigan’s school choice options, visit michigan.gov.

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