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Coventry district presents report on open enrollment

2/16/2017 - South Side Leader
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By Maria Lindsay

COVENTRY — After several months of study on the matter, Coventry Local Schools officials have concluded that open enrollment does raise revenue for the district, contrary to the findings State Auditor Dave Yost’s performance audit of Coventry Local Schools released this past August that stated the district lost $1 million in 2014-15 due to open enrollment.

Open enrollment is the practice of allowing students from one district to attend school in another, with or without tuition. According to the performance audit, Coventry Local Schools had the highest number of open enrollment students in the state in 2014-15 — 782 students of its total 2,076, which represented 38 percent of its student body. The audit also stated the district had a net loss of just over $1 million due to this, suggested the district could save money if open enrollment was reduced and recommended the district set open enrollment levels by grade level, school buildings and/or programs.

In response to this audit, and as part of an attempt to get out of fiscal emergency, the Financial Supervision and Planning Commission appointed to oversee Coventry district operations created committees to review district operations related to open enrollment, as well as transportation, financial management, human resources and facilities.

The 13-member Open Enrollment Committee included: resident Jim Darby; Shawn Welsh and Jeff Angeletti, residents who have a child or a grandchild in Coventry schools; Lorene Reed, an alumna who is also a past teacher and member of the Coventry Schools Taxpayers Accountability Coalition; Frank Archual, who has a daughter working as a Coventry teacher; Greg Smith, a teacher in the district; Coventry Superintendent Russell Chaboudy; Assistant Superintendent Lisa Blough, who is a district resident and parent of a child in the district; Coventry Treasurer Matt Muccio; Bob Wohlgamuth, Coventry Board of Education president and a district resident and Coventry alumnus; Vicki Tavenier, Board of Education member, a district resident and the parent of a child in the district; and Kim Richard, Ohio Department of Education assistant and director of financial analysis and commissions, and chair of the Coventry Schools Financial Planning and Supervision Commission. Joseph Iacano, superintendent of the Summit County Educational Service Center, served as the committee facilitator.

At a Feb. 13 public meeting, which officials stated was attended by over 400 people, Chaboudy explained Muccio and Blough reviewed the district’s practice of accepting students from other school districts and its impact on Coventry Local Schools. He added Open Enrollment Committee members provided input on the matter, and the findings were approved by 11 of the 13 committee members, as well as the Board of Education.

Committee officials stated that although the report’s data had not been “vetted” by anyone outside of the district, it had been sent to Yost’s office for comment, with no comments available by presstime.

Chaboudy stated at the start of the presentation that questions or comments would not be accepted that evening, and he instead asked residents to submit written questions, which would be answered by district officials. He added the presentation contained a lot of complex information and he wanted to give residents time to digest the data.

“The findings were a huge shock to us,” said Chaboudy. “This is a complex and detailed report.”

Copies of the 107-page report are available at coventryschools.org by clicking on Coventry Schools Open Enrollment Review at the top of the page.

During the public meeting, Muccio explained the report includes revisions to the district policy on open enrollment, as well as a thorough review of Yost’s performance audit and his office’s conclusions, the district’s findings on this and various models to show what impact open enrollment has on Coventry Local Schools.

According to the report, the new open enrollment policy, approved by the Board of Education at a special meeting Feb. 10, states the district will maintain levels of open enrollment that do not exceed building capacity, as opposed to grade levels, as student populations vary year to year. Building capacity is set at 750 at Coventry Elementary School, 700 at Coventry Middle School and 800 at Coventry High School. Capacity for grade levels and/or classes also will be considered in accepting students from outside the district. Also included in the new policy are procedures for accepting open enrollment students. The new policy also requires the superintendent and treasurer to present an annual review of open enrollment to the Board of Education prior to March 31 every school year.

Muccio also said the report includes a breakdown of the auditor’s methodology used to reach his office’s findings on open enrollment and the creation of models showing costs and revenue for a school district with resident students only, models with various numbers of open enrollment students, and five-year forecasts showing associated financials.

“We want to verify the $5,692,575 cost of open enrollment identified in the audit,” said Muccio. “We found the audit report was not inaccurate; it was just inadequate. The audit artificially inflated numbers because they used percentages rather than actual figures [to calculate various line items]. The auditor does not have time to look at things in depth, but we have done it.”

Muccio explained that among the findings, district officials found numerous open enrollment expenses that did not include revenue, as well as associated expenses that were inaccurately recorded. He added he worked to determine the “true costs” associated with educating open enrollment students by using actual figures, and then looking at the actual costs to educate resident students versus open enrollment students.

“You cannot reduce staff member salaries by 37.7 percent [the percentage that represents open enrollment students used by auditors to determine total costs rather than using actual numbers] automatically to determine the cost savings of educating the additional open enrollment students, as many of these staff members are there whether there are open enrollment students or not,” said Muccio. “The use of a percentage rather than actual numbers skewed the audit findings.”

Muccio concluded the district’s findings for costs were much lower because he used the actual costs.

Also during the meeting, Blough presented staffing costs associated with and without open enrollment in various models. She explained the district determined these numbers by using personnel costs associated with core subject teachers (mathematics, English, social studies and science). She stated the following:

• The cost to educate resident students was $14,188,245.

• There was no additional expense to add 124 open enrollment students, as they “fill seats” while the revenue gain was $744,000.

• Accepting 187 open enrollments students cost an additional $191,215 while generating $378,000, resulting in a net gain of $186,785.

• Open enrollment cost for 409 students was $1,327,837, while the revenue gain was $1,132,000, resulting in a net of $195,378.

• There were no costs for 452 open enrollments students as they once again fill seats, while the revenue generated was $258,000.

• There was an expense of $140,264 for 544 students, while generating $552,000 in revenue, resulting in a gain of $411,736.

• Using actual numbers for this school year, open enrollment costs for 757 students was zero (filling open seats), and the revenue was $1,278,000.

The report included associated costs factored into these results to show purchased services ($191,325), supplies and materials ($46,634), as well as capital outlay ($2,944) for this fiscal year, with results continuing to show a net gain in accepting open enrollment students.

Muccio also presented five-year forecasts to show what the district’s finances would look like with varying numbers of open enrollment students, with these results indicating that deficits decrease with an increase in open enrollment students.

“To see positive forecasts, we must bring in open enrollment students,” said Muccio. “Open enrollment is assisting the district in spreading out costs and plugging holes.”

The open enrollment report concluded with the following statement: “Open enrollment positively impacts the school and community both financially and academically. Funds generated through open enrollment offset costs for the residents and allow the school district to offer more academic, athletic and arts programs to both resident and open enrollment students.”

Chaboudy stated at the end of the presentation the district’s recent financial problems, which led to it being placed in the state’s fiscal emergency category in November 2015, were not caused by open enrollment, but by state school funding models that labeled Coventry a rich district, reducing the amount of funding it receives, as well as debt issues associated with health care costs and facility needs.

The district’s report on open enrollment was expected to come under review by the Financial Planning and Supervision Commission at a meeting that took place yesterday, Feb. 16.

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