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Open enrollment chart causes confusion, debate in Somerset

After more than an hour of debate, the Somerset School District Board of Education voted 4-3 (board members Kelly Ott, Tom Walters and Tammie Wishard dissenting) to approve the 2015-2016 open enrollment chart as recommended by the administration.

The approval came after a motion by Ott to keep the open enrollment chart at the same numbers as 2014-2015 failed 3-4.

According to a memo in the school board packet, the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) requires the board of education to approve an enrollment chart per section of classes that will be used when the board either approves or denies open enrollment requests. This chart is approved each January for the following school year since open enrollment begins in early February. The chart shows the goal/ideal number of students per section compared to the actual number of students per section. The difference between the two numbers either allows or denies open enrollment to students who live outside the district wanting to enroll in the Somerset district.

The confusion seemed to stem from the fact that Ott thought approving the 2015-2016 chart meant the district was supporting the idea of increasing class sizes. This sparked a debate on the merits of small class sizes vs. large class sizes, with Wishard and teacher Lorri Baillargeon strongly and adamantly voicing their opposition to larger class sizes.

Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Trisha Sheridan finally halted the debate by pointing out that the chart (meant strictly as a guide for open enrollment requests) and class sizes are two completely different topics. She told Ott she felt it was very premature “to stir everyone up over this” since Somerset has no immediate plans to increase class sizes.

Rosburg reminded everyone that the district cannot say no to people wishing to enroll who live in the district. Wishard said if people want to attend Somerset, they should move into the district as her family did many years ago.

Board member Bob Gunther said that even if enrollment did increase, which it has remained flat for the last couple of years, the board has always been supportive of hiring new teachers if needed and has “never crammed the classrooms.”

Sheridan said the chart is simply a means of showing how many spaces are available for students not living in the district who want to enter the district through open enrollment.

Director of Pupil Services Shannon Donnelly affirmed the open enrollment space availability for special education students to be zero for the upcoming open enrollment period.

Currently, 1,599 students are enrolled in the district, according to the third Friday totals.

Positive recognition

  •  The National Football League's Don Shula National High School Coach of the Year and Somerset High School football coach Bruce Larson, who was informed Friday of the award, received a standing ovation at Monday night’s Somerset School Board meeting. In fact, it’s fortunate the meeting was moved to the high school’s multi-purpose room because roughly 250-300 people packed the seats.
  •  Middle School health care provider Dawn Spafford was named a Silver Ring Award recipient for her 25 years of service with the district.
  •  Adult school crossing guards Laura Bambach, Pat Everson, Jonathan Grant, Lora Greener, Robin Knudtson, Jennie Mangine and Julie Schultz were presented certificates of appreciation.

“They do an unbelievable job of keeping our kids safe,” said Board President Brian Moulton. “And believe me, when it’s 10, 20, 30 degrees below zero outside, it’s not an easy job.”

Public comment

An upset father approached the board during the public comment time to discuss diversity issues and the way they’re handled in the district. The man said his son has been called the “n-word” at least five different times since elementary school while at school.

He also said his son has been yelled at, punished and found guilty by staff members in incidents involving other students and suggested staff need more diversity training, along with stricter punishments for diversity issues.

The man also questioned why the students did not have off school for the national holiday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day. He wondered if students are being taught the significance of the holiday.

Gunther and board member Marie Colbeth both apologized to the man for the issues his son has had to face. The board agreed to further examine the man’s diversity issue concerns.

Other business

  •  The board heard an IT update from RMM Solutions representative Amy Arnold.
  •  The board approved an open enrollment request out of Somerset to McFarland.
  •  The board approved the 2015-2016 district calendar.
  •  The post prom facility sponsorship and $1, 570 facility fee were approved.
  •  Brenda Rivard was hired as a middle school special education aide.
Sarah Nigbor

Sarah J. Nigbor serves as a regional editor for RiverTown Multimedia, a position she began in April 2017. She joined RiverTown Multimedia in October 2013 as a news reporter for the New Richmond News, before being appointed editor of the Pierce County Herald in February 2015. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Spanish and French in 2001. She completed a minor in journalism in 2004. 

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