UNcommon Sense: Holland Addresses Marlow Public Schools Enrollment

by Marlow Public Schools Superintendent Corey Holland

A new transfer law went into effect July 1, 2022. It now requires public schools to set capacity limits for each grade and mandates the process of accepting transfers when the limit is not met. As many of you are aware, my first day as superintendent was also July 1st. My first encounter with some families proved very challenging as they were wanting to transfer into the district but those requests were denied due to grade level capacity having been met. To make matters more complicated, we have had many seeking to enroll wanting to use the address of another family member or friend to establish residency even though the student does not actually live there. Some have even signed documents to give parental rights to another family member to try to establish residency- all of this in an effort to get around the new capacity limit law. Clearly, our school is a school of choice.

Nineteen percent of our current student population are transfer students. This is a higher percentage than most schools our size. There are a variety of reasons this has occurred. The COVID pandemic, state budget challenges, and an increase in online school options all put the district in a constant position of trying to balance the ideal enrollment levels while also responding to revenue shortfalls. School funding is very unique district by district. Finding the balance needed to establish budget stability is difficult. Doing this during a pandemic was extremely difficult. As we move out of the pandemic era, it is important we re-establish the balance needed to put our district in a long-term positive position. Cost increases due to inflation only make this more urgent. Setting a sustainable capacity limit is key. The new transfer law has led to all districts working to clean up their enrollment data. Part of the process is reviewing residency information to ensure we are fully compliant with the enrollment capacity limits. At Marlow, we have found some of our student’s enrollment information was not reflective of their actual residency status. Many of the errors found were due to families who originally lived in the district, moved out of the district, but this move was not communicated and therefore not recorded properly in our enrollment data. Whatever the case, our current enrollment projection for upcoming school years is unsustainable and must be addressed.

So why do we have to address it? While there is a part of me who would love to help every student wanting to transfer into our district, as Superintendent, my primary obligation is to fully meet the needs of those students whose parents reside in our district. In fact, Oklahoma state law requires our school to enroll and educate every resident K-12th grade student who wants to attend. We cannot turn away any K-12th grade resident student. Our property tax laws recognize this distinction. Only resident parents/guardians property taxes pay for bonds. Parents of transfer students' property taxes remain in the district for where they live and do not help pay for Marlow bonds. This is one of the key financial challenges that will be created if we do not work to establish balance in our future enrollment.

So what does this mean for our school? If we do not address our growing enrollment we will reach a point where our students are negatively impacted. We will not be able to provide enough classrooms for continued student growth. Additionally, our class sizes will become unmanageable. The only solution: hire more teachers (which we cannot afford) and pass a bond to build more classrooms. It is completely legitimate to seek a new bond to build classrooms to replace old/decaying buildings as was done at the elementary and will be done at the high school. It is entirely different to seek a bond to build classroom space for students whose parents will not be required to pay for it. I cannot in good conscience ask our community to raise their property taxes mainly for the purpose of housing students who do not live here. It is a financial burden which is unrealistic for a district like Marlow. More importantly, I cannot allow our students to be in overcrowded classrooms. To avoid these undesired outcomes, we have begun working on a process to lower our capacity limits to more closely reflect the size of district we are. The obvious challenge is to establish a process to do so methodically and as fairly as possible. This is in no way intended to be an attack on our parents of transfer students. In fact, many of these parents are Marlow graduates themselves. Many of these parents are also some of our most involved in supporting our school and programs. The issue is simply one of future sustainability.

For those who are currently attending on a valid transfer (applied for & approved where actual address represents where the student lives) it is our intention to honor the transfer approval for the remainder of the current school year. Certainly, there will be those whose transfer will not be renewed for the 2023-24 school year. At this point, I do not know how many or who those will be. Our administrative team has just begun to work on our plan to address our enrollment issue. Once finalized, we will be reviewing all transfers early in 2023 and then begin in early spring contacting parents/guardians whose transfer student may be impacted for the 2023-24 school year. We will work very hard to be as equitable as possible. Ultimately, I am charged to do everything possible to keep our district in a position to provide the most impactful and effective education for our students. To do so, I must keep the district in a long term, sound financial position. Addressing our over-capacity issue in enrollment is an important first step to that end.

Brothers Barista