In Play with Tom Markowski

School of Choice an answer for many schools and families

Football   | Tom Markowski

State Champs! Sports Network

Michigan’s school-of-choice program, which was established in 1996, has received mixed reviews from high school coaches and administrators. From an athletic standpoint some coaches say it has ruined high school sports by eliminating the community aspect of high school teams. Some administrators say the program offers a variety of opportunities to students who would otherwise do without. Others view it as a necessary tool, one that school districts use to remain afloat financially.
The intent of the program is to allow parents to send their children to a school that offers opportunities educationally and socially. It allows parents from an economically troubled school district to send their children to a district that offers a higher quality education.
 Some say the program offers too many advantages athletically to some districts but not all.
Allen Park football coach Tom Hoover said it has "opened up a can of worms" with little hope of corralling the controversy it's created.
"It's not a level playing field," Hoover said. "It's like poker. I have to stay with a pat hand and you get to draw three."
The schools-of-choice program permits students in participating districts to transfer. For example, a student in Oakland County can attend any public school in the county that participates in the program. There are some schools in Oakland County that offer schools-of-choice to students outside of the county.  
 In the 2010-11 school year, 82 percent of Michigan public schools participated in the program.
A few school districts in Metro Detroit remain completely closed; the Grosse Pointe school system, Farmington and Dearborn are among them. Allen Park and Romulus are like most districts. They have a limited schools-of-choice program which varies from year to year. For the 2012-13 school year Allen Park accepted applications for kindergarten through sixth grade but is closed for grades 7-12.
The Madison school district in Madison Heights is unlimited; it will accept students at every grade level from any county until the enrollment is full.
Saginaw Heritage is the only high school in the Saginaw Township Community School district. Athletic director Peter Ryan said his school system changed (in 2008) its schools-of-choice policy to conform to the wishes of its residents.
 "We were completely open," Ryan said. "A few years ago we couldn't get a bond issue passed so we reduced the program to include K-6 only. We do have openings for the honors level for the ninth grade but we only get about a half dozen a year for that. We were able to pass the bond issue after that. (The parents) wanted the kids to come up through the system. It's created less of an issue for us.
"It's worked for us. I feel very fortunate that the kids we've received have added to our schools. The kids who come here from outside the district want to participate in more than just athletics. We're the only ones in the (Saginaw) county to offer an International Baccalaureate program. In a metro area, where schools are located close to one another, there are tough issues athletically. The ADs in this area communicate well to avoid any problems."
The need for students affects nearly every school district, rural and urban. The Ionia school district in Ionia County located 42 miles northwest of Lansing struggles to keep its enrollment up. Athletic director Scott Swinehart said his high school used to have over 1,000 students in 2008. Enrollment has steadily declined every year since. This year it’s at 796. With each school district receiving approximately $7,000 in state aid per student the numbers add up. Swinehart said Ionia has approximately 400 schools-of-choice students enrolled K-12.
"We've lost about 200 (from within the district)," he said. "There's no doubt. We use the program. Look at us. We're a school district that doesn't have a lot of schools around us. The closet one is Saranac seven miles away."
Trenton offered a schools-of-choice program for the first time in 2012. Administrators said they had no choice; economics drove this decision. The district took in 30 students from outside the district but within Wayne County at the ninth grade level, 20 at kindergarten and 10 at the first grade level. Trenton football coach Bob Czarnecki isn't happy but realizes it had to be done.Anchor
 "It diminishes the sense of community," he said. "This is a huge departure for Trenton. If a decision is made to move from one school to another is done for academic reasons, that's fine. Taking a look, I don’t think that's the case. I don't know how you can monitor the numbers (for athletic transfers). The rule was put in place to offer students another opportunity and to put poor-performing schools out of business.”
Trenton high school Principal Dr. Michael Doyle isn't convinced it's all gloom and doom Czarnecki envisions. Doyle said his scho