Open enrollment switches a five-year trend

Wittenberg-Birnamwood getting more students than its losing
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For the first time in five years, there are more students coming into the Wittenberg-Birnamwood School District through open enrollment than leaving.

This year’s enrollment includes 133 students entering the district from elsewhere — a big improvement from last year — and 126 students leaving for other districts.

Under Wisconsin’s public school open enrollment program, parents can apply for their children to attend school in a district other than the one in which they reside. If parents want to move their children to another district for work, child care or religious purposes, they typically can do so — and state funding moves with them.

“The cost for open enrollment is between $7,500 and $12,000 per child,” Wittenberg-Birnamwood Superintendent Garrett Rogowski said.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, a student’s transfer will cost a district approximately $7,055. That figure goes up to $12,207 for a student in special education, as those students typically require additional personnel and resources and incur more costs.

The breakdown of open enrollment students in Wittenberg-Birnamwood for the past four years is as follows: 2013-14, 81 students entered and 89 left; 2014-15, 80 entered and 96 left; 2015-16, 81 entered and 114 left; 2016-17, 106 entered and 124 left.

In addition to family logistics, students attend and leave districts for reasons such as academic programming, resources and extra-curricular offerings.

Districts that can offer many amenities oftentimes do well with open enrollment numbers. Rogowski said.

Over the past two years, a group of 35 community representatives and Witt-Birn district staff members have held several meetings to create a long-term vision for the district. The plans could definitely affect open enrollment numbers, according to district officials.

The committee’s proposals included upgrades to buildings and grounds, a plan for academic success and opportunities for student engagement outside of academics.

Although it would cost about $22 million to fund the committee’s full wish list — which includes upgrading technology labs, bringing the seventh and eighth grades to a new area of the high school, building an additional gym, enlarging the music area and making the two elementary schools pre-kindergarten through sixth grade — a districtwide survey indicated that residents will only support a referendum of roughly $6 million to $10 million.

Building maintenance, reconfiguring entrances for higher safety standards and expanding technological and agricultural education were cited as top priorities.

The open enrollment application period has opened for the 2018-19 school year, and information is available on the state Department of Public Instruction website.