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Reasons students transferred from Crookston school vary

CROOKSTON -- Superintendent of Schools Chris Bates said he is encouraged by a recent phone survey of parents whose children are open-enrolled in neighboring school districts.

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CROOKSTON -- Superintendent of Schools Chris Bates said he is encouraged by a recent phone survey of parents whose children are open-enrolled in neighboring school districts.

One reason for his optimism is that the 28 families he reached had a wide range of reasons for sending their children elsewhere, most of them not under the control of school officials.

Another reason was that the phone calls likely prompted two families -- and their eight children -- to return to Crookston schools, by registering for classes the next day. Those eight children will mean an additional $50,000 in annual state aid.

But that amount is only a drop in the budget bucket. According to Bates' estimates, Crookston has 30 open enrollees coming in and 180 going out. That 150-student net loss adds up to about $1 million in annual lost revenue from the state.

"That amount is about 8 percent of our annual budget, so it's significant," Bates said. "If we get that back, that would give us the chance to offer better programs, hire more staff and do the things we want to do."


With five replies, the poll showed the most frequent reason for going elsewhere was the other school was closer to home or work. Tied for second with three replies each were: 1) wanted smaller class sizes; and 2) Crookston has a bullying climate. Two respondents also cited a conflict with a teacher or administrator, and one mentioned the school district's "lack of ambition." Otherwise, the reasons were factors that the school can't control.

The phone survey's two questions were: 1) Why did you leave?; and 2) Is there something we can do to get you back?

"A few survey respondents had a bad experience, but overall, the responses were not critical and were appropriate with their answers," Bates said.

"One thing we need to do is get more information out to the public. It's our fault that we don't advertise what extra curriculum we can offer and that our class sizes are smaller than people think they are."

He said the plan includes being "more vigilant in keeping touch with our customers" and also to conduct a similar survey next spring.

A touchy subject

Open enrollment is a sensitive subject here. Of interview requests of 10 Crookston parents who have open-enrolled students, by the Herald and by intermediaries, only one was willing to talk. A common reason for people who declined was along the lines of, "I have to live here."

The exception was Bob Magsam, who said he catches more flak from fellow residents than others because he's a city-employed firefighter, paid with tax dollars.


It started when his oldest child, now a senior at Fisher High School, entered kindergarten. Magsam said he was miffed then because the school board had chosen to build a new high school rather than remodel the existing one, which he had attended. Another reason was that his wife, Lisa, is a Fisher graduate. And, they had busing concerns that were alleviated by Fisher's willingness to pick up their children at their door.

The Magsams' other two children also attend Fisher.

"When people ask me the reason for sending our kids to Fisher, my response is that it's the same reason I wear white tennis shoes," Magsam said. "It's a choice I made, and I've never had a reason to change my mind. We've never had a problem with Fisher, so it made sense to keep our children there."

He said he doesn't recruit other Crookston students for Fisher "because I don't want to pick sides.

"But my hunch is that, unless the state changes open-enrollment laws, our other two children will graduate from there, too."

Fisher, Climax benefit

The major beneficiaries of Crookston's open-enrollment emigrants are Fisher with 119 additional students and Climax-Shelly with 55.

For Fisher, Crookston-based students comprise more than one-third of its students, resulting in about $750,000 annually in state aid.


"We don't have flyers or marketing, it's just the parents' choice," said first-year Superintendent Lance Northey. "We just open the doors."

With 300 students, classes average 25 students. Northey said there is one classroom per grade in the elementary.

"We haven't added classrooms yet and aren't to the point where the number of kids allows us to add extra teachers," he said. "But it certainly helps us. We've been able to enhance our curriculum, instruction and technology."

Like Fisher, Climax is about a 15-minute drive from Crookston and offers student busing. And, like Fisher, it welcomes the enrollment boost.

Superintendent Norm Baumgarn said smaller classroom sizes and greater access to computers likely are his school's two biggest attractions.

"We have 13 to 14 students per classroom instead of (at least 20) in Crookston," he said. "And, we have 120 computer systems for our 190 kids in K-12.

"Because we're so small, the students get more individual attention. It's easier to get a better grade when you get more individual attention. And, even though it shouldn't, being in a bigger school scares some kids."

Baumgarn estimates his school will receive about $385,000 in state aid because of students from Crookston -- about 15 percent of the school's budget.


"We're going to be open even if the Crookston students don't continue to come, but having them makes it a much more viable school system," Baumgarn said.

Same size, different result

East Grand Forks is a similar-sized school district to Crookston, but has a different experience with open enrollment.

Over the past three years, Superintendent David Pace said, the school has had 130 to 140 more students coming in than going out. That's about 10 percent of their enrollment. Most of them live in Alvarado and Oslo, which share a school district with Warren, where the school is located.

"Borders don't mean anything for education now, so you pick the school system that serves your needs the best," Pace said. "In a Utopian world, you hope open enrollment is based mostly on curriculum, but that's sometimes not the case.

"When I look at our open enrollment forms, the main reasons that I see are that we have more course offerings and more convenience because it's where family members work-and-shop."

Reach Bakken at (701) 780-1125; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1125; or send e-mail to rbakken@gfherald.com .

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