Verona Area School District administrative building March 2020

The outside of the Verona Area School District administration building.

For most of the past decade, the Verona Area School District has been conservative when offering open enrollment seats as the student population inside its boundaries continues to grow.

As long as increases don’t force the district to open new class sections, having open enrollment is a net gain for the district. It gets around half the state funding it would get from a student who lives within the boundaries.

But this year, with more students opting out of the district than in, administrators have determined the district has space for 104 open enrollment seats for 2021-22 – its biggest increase in five years. That’s because more students than usual are being educated elsewhere.

Most students who have opted out of the district either transferred to private schools with in-person learning or their families chose to homeschool them, assistant superintendent for student services Emmett Durtschi said.

“This year, partly due to the COVID-19 situation, we had 132 in, and 182 out,” he said.

The school board is scheduled to vote on the number of open enrollment spots the district will have at its Jan. 25 meeting. The proposal was unveiled to the school board at its Monday, Jan. 11 meeting, meant for discussion only.

The state requires districts to approve the number of open-enroll students it will accept each year in January. Families then apply in February and March to open enroll their children, and in May, administrators go through applications to see which they will accept, Durtschi said.

That number changes from year to year. Over the past five years, the most the district approved was 104 in 2017. The lowest was 33 in 2019.

Under administrators’ proposal for the 2021-22 year, the biggest numbers of seats – 15 apiece – would be open at kindergarten, sixth and ninth grades, which are the initial grades for each new school level – elementary, middle and high school. Once a student moves to a new level of school, the family needs to reapply.

The district’s plan would allocate the majority of open enrollment sports to elementary schools – in addition to the 15 kindergarten seats, first and fourth grades would get five seats split across all schools, and grades 2, 3 and 5 will have eight spots each.

The middle schools would share 29 open seats; the high school would have 31 total.

The proposal is drastically different from what was proposed last year, although in both situations, the board was facing a period of uncertainty. Last January, administrators expected shifting attendance area boundaries, prompting them to recommend no open enrollment seats for grades K-5; the school board added 10 open spots for kindergarteners anyway.

Email reporter Kimberly Wethal at kimberly.wethal@wcinet.com and follow her on Twitter @kimberly_wethal.