Osakis School District casts a large net
Tue, 03/14/2023 - 6:48pm admin
School draws students from far and wide with open enrollment
In the 2022-23 school year, Osakis Public Schools enrolls approximately 815 students. Strikingly, about one out of nine students come not from Osakis district boundaries, but Long Prairie-Grey Eagle, and another one out of nine students come from District 206 in Alexandria.
Overall, these communities contribute to 295 open-enrolled students, or about 38 percent of the Osakis School District student body.
These open-enrolled, non-resident students have contributed significantly not only to the “average daily membership” at Osakis Public Schools, but also to significant additional funding from the state.
According to Justin Dahlheimer, business manager of the Osakis schools, this large number of open-enrolled students shows that Osakis has a great school that “introduces families to the community and brings non-local dollars into the community.”
According to the Minnesota Department of Education website, “Statewide enrollment options, informally known as open enrollment, is Minnesota’s public school choice option that allows students and parents to have access to schools that are not within their resident district. This program allows student enrollment from one school district into another.”
According to the website, “more than 86,000 Minnesota students, or 9.9 percent, are open enrolled” in the 2020-21 school year.
Families use a standard form created by the MDE and submit the request to the “non-resident district” by January 15. The form only asks for basic information from the student and the reasons they wish to enroll in the non-resident district. Indeed, that form explicitly forbids asking about either individual disabilities or much demographic information (race, creed, gender, etc).
Further, school districts can only deny students based on specific criteria involving a cap on the number of students open-enrolled or a cap for a certain grade level.
Osakis Open Enrollment Numbers
In his report to the Osakis School Board last December, Dahlheimer wrote that 295 students have elected to open-enroll into Osakis in the 2022-23 school year. This includes 154 students in the elementary and 141 students in the high school.
In the same report, Dahlheimer highlighted that Osakis has a total of 815 students enrolled. Therefore, the school district has 38 percent of its enrolled students coming from outside the boundaries of the district.
Who open enrolls to Osakis?
In that same report, students primarily come from three other school districts. First, 94 students come from Long Prairie-Grey Eagle. According to 2021-22 data from the MDE, these students are part of the almost 400 Long Prairie-Grey Eagle students open enrolling into other districts. With that district having around 1,240 resident students, this results in about 30 percent open enrollment to another district.
Second, 93 students come from District 206 in Alexandria. They are part of the almost 380 students that open enroll to other districts, and about 110 enrolled in charter/non-public schools. However, with that district having almost 4,300 resident students, this results in around eight to nine percent open enrollment into other districts.
Third, 52 students come from Minnewaska. They are part of approximately 150 students that open enrolled into other districts, and about 90 of those students enrolled into charter schools. As that district has 1,500 resident students, this results in 10 percent open enrollment into other districts.
Finally, for Osakis itself, 57 students (about eight percent) open enrolled into other districts.
In an email, Dahlheimer noted, “The low figure would indicate it’s likely not much of a trend, just a parent’s preference (based on where they work or send other kids to daycare, etc).”
Reasons to Open Enroll
In an email, Osakis Superintendent Randy Bergquist sees five reasons families choose to open enroll to Osakis.
First, he highlighted the 70 to 80 college credits the school offers. As these credits are free to students, it allows for many Osakis students to graduate high school and start college as a sophomore student.
Second, Bergquist highlighted Osakis has a number of open-enrolled students with special needs. He specifically noted the “smaller class sizes” that allow the teachers to “focus more attention on students who may need extra help.” Indeed, the data presented to the school board showed that 47 open-enrolled students classify as “special education students.”
Third, he noted that Osakis has smaller elementary class sections than surrounding schools. He highlighted, “We have a number of paraprofessionals to help out in the classrooms.”
Fourth, Bergquist noted the mental health team of four individuals the district has is “very good for a district our size.”
Finally, he highlighted all the extra-curricular activities in the school for students to participate in. Specifically, he noted that this not only includes athletics, but also the fine arts as well.
Long Prairie-Grey Eagle and Minnewaska didn’t respond to requests for comments on the issue. Jill Johnson, spokesperson for District 206, said in an email, “There are lots of individual reasons families choose to apply to attend school outside of the school district where they live.”
Impacts on School Budget
Dahlheimer highlighted that each additional student brings in approximately $10,000 in additional revenues from the state. Therefore, because open enrollment can change, he told the school board at last December’s “Truth in Taxation” meeting that they budget “conservatively” with the large number of open-enrolled students.
He also noted to the school board at the same meeting the economic impacts these students have on the Osakis community. In a follow-up email, he affirmed that these open-enrolled students “introduce families to our community, bring non-local dollars into our community, and add revenue to our school budget that can be used to serve long term needs that our school provides our community.”
Likewise, when asked for comment on their revenues, Johnson, the spokesperson for District 206, stated, “All districts’ revenue is enrollment driven so it can impact the budget positively or negatively.”
Overall, Osakis will continue to serve not only those students in the local community, but also the approximately one in three students coming from outside the district boundaries.