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Open Enrollments students may be caught in the middle of solution to crowded New Berlin school

Feb. 11, 2013

New Berlin - Under a new school district policy, children who attend local elementary schools under the Open Enrollment program might not move on to seventh grade at an already overcrowded Eisenhower Middle and High School.

To provide flexibility in case the number of students at Eisenhower gets too high, the New Berlin schools could now ask Open Enrollment sixth-graders to reapply for acceptance into the district. The reapplication would only be requested if there is no other way to handle Eisenhower overcrowding, School Board members said.

School officials are particularly worried about new students coming from a large tract of farmland within Eisenhower's boundaries that is in line for development, said Superintendent Joe Garza. The tract, section 35, is the largest piece of farmland east of Moorland Road and will include new homes.

Feeling connected

Parents of Open Enrollment students have pleaded with the School Board to keep the old policy assuring that Open Enrollment students can finish in New Berlin once they have been accepted.

"That was big for us," said David Primus, a firefighter in Milwaukee, who chose New Berlin for his two children over Whitnall and Greendale partly because of that assurance.

Primus said his children haven't cost the district anything because they fill classroom seats that would have sat empty. At the same time each one brought $6,600 into the schools every year in state Open Enrollment aid, he noted.

Beyond that they feel part of the school district.

"The kids have made friends, we've made friends," said Primus, who has coached in New Berlin and been a Boy Scout den leader as well. "We love the school district."

Other options first

One parent found some reassurance in the board's statement that it would look at other options before asking for sixth-graders to reapply.

Parent John Tsoris, who also spoke in favor of keeping the assurance of finishing school in New Berlin, was disappointed after the vote but recognized the possibility "is a last resort type of option."

"In my opinion, (district officials) will do the right thing," said Tsoris, who noted some school districts also require reapplications.

In an email to Superintendent Joe Garza, he even had a suggestion of his own: moving Eisenhower middle school students to the nearby and recently closed Glen Park Elementary School.

Making a waiting list

Not wanting to lose any Open Enrollment students, the School Board also established a waiting list at the same time it voted for reapplications. Tsoris sees that as an advantage.

Every January, school boards set the number of Open Enrollment seats that are available for the following fall. The districts are always conservative on the number they offer because they don't know if an influx of children unexpectedly moving into the district over the spring or summer, Tsoris said. The waiting list loosens up that conservative estimate.

"Now, they can keep it open until they know exactly what they have," he said.

Tough decision

School Board President David Maxey said the reapplication process doesn't mean the old policy has fallen out of favor.

"I liked the guarantee and I still do," Maxey said.

But space is the issue.

Because school officials don't see space as a crippling problem in the near future, Maxey supports the reapplication policy. It was determined that the board will not seek reapplications for the 2013-2014 school year.

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