HAMMOND — Families from across the Region can now enroll their students in the School City of Hammond regardless of their residency.
The Hammond school board voted, 3-2, in a Tuesday night meeting to open enrollment to students living out of Hammond city limits.
The school city’s new policy will allow the district flexibility to set enrollment caps for each school and grade level to avoid overcrowding at any particular building.
Trustees Carlotta Blake-King and Manny Candelaria Jr. voted against the policy with Blake-King citing concerns for overcrowding at schools like Morton and Gavit high schools, despite the caps built into the new policy.
Schools that meet their caps will employ a waitlist, Superintendent Scott Miller said Tuesday. The policy also allows the district to deny a student who is notably truant or has been suspended or expelled within the last year for a violent offense.
"The policy will allow us to, essentially, by grade level, to set limits on the number of students in an intelligent way," Miller said. "If we have too many students apply for a building and they meet the limit, essentially we'll have a lottery for the one building and additional students could go to another building."
Hammond will begin taking enrollment applications immediately through its Student Services department. Accepted students will be notified closer to the beginning of the school year, Miller said.
The board vote comes as Hammond looks to mitigate financial losses from a significant decline in enrollment. The district is closing three schools this summer and has begun the process of cutting more than 130 staff positions to offset a projected $10.2 million deficit in the year 2020.
The school city closed enrollment after the 2017-18 school year and saw 545 fewer students return the next fall. Under Indiana’s school funding formula which is driven by enrollment totals, the decrease cost the district more than $3.6 million in state funding.
Ninety-percent of Hammond's operating budget is made up of state funding, Miller said in a meeting last month.
However, in the same May meeting, Blake-King expressed concern that the district’s closed enrollment policy was not the only reason why families have fled Hammond schools.
With neighboring districts like the School Town of Munster regularly receiving A grades in Indiana's annual state accountability reports, Blake-King questioned what Hammond schools were doing to stay competitive with nearby schools and to challenge students academically.
Munster Superintendent Jeff Hendrix told The Times last month in the 2018-19 school year his district enrolled 96 students with Hammond addresses — most being students who have transferred into the district.
In an attempt to attract students, the Hammond board approved a contract last month with Edmentum Virtual School to pursue a partnership in offering virtual school classes under Hammond’s public school umbrella.
The agreement, as presented in past board meetings, would allow Edmentum staff to teach the online courses to Hammond-enrolled students. In turn, the School City of Hammond would receive a percentage of state funding for each enrolled student, allowing the district to increase its state funding base.
The superintendent has set a goal to attract 200 additional students to Hammond schools before the start of next school year, which could bring the district an increase of just under $1.4 million in state funding.
"That is ambitious, especially with the short window we have," Miller said. "Essentially, that's just under $7,000 per student."
The school city also continued its conversation of teacher layoffs Tuesday night with several members of the public expressing concern for cuts of 20 media specialists in the district.
The Hammond school board will meet in executive session on June 24 to hear appeals from six employees cut in the district's recent riffs.
The board will meet again at 5:30 p.m. June 26 at the Hammond Administration Center to vote to approve its first round of staff reductions.