As enrollment cap expires, students face a choice of schools

Monday, December 17, 2001

Every afternoon 8-year-old Tiffany Haselbusch and her 6-year-old sister, Casey, leave school 15 minutes early and catch another school's bus so they can get home.

They attend Jefferson Elementary School because of an enrollment cap that keeps them from attending Franklin Elementary School even though they live within that school's boundaries. That means they ride alone from one school to the other and then wait on the bus for the other children to get out of class at Franklin.

The enrollment cap went into effect at the beginning of the 2000-01 school year to accommodate redistricting, but will expire in May. The Haselbusch children and four other students will have to decide whether to stay at Jefferson, where they have made friends over the past two years, or transfer to Franklin.

In 1999, the Cape Girardeau School District began making long-term preparations for the transition to the new K-4 grade centers and 5/6 center, which will open next fall, by redrawing the areas around the five elementary schools.

Over the course of the following year concern grew that the number of students in grades K-4 after the transition would be unbalanced, especially between Blanchard, the second-largest school, and its neighbor Franklin, the smallest school.

Widened territory

As a result the district slightly widened Franklin's territory and estimated as many as 60 students who would have gone to Blanchard would instead go to Franklin. That many students would make class sizes at Franklin too large.

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education sets two standards for class size -- the desirable, or recommended, student-teacher ratio, and the minimum, or the highest student-teacher ratio allowed before a teacher's assistant is necessary.

In May 2000, the school board approved superintendent Dan Steska's Franklin Commitment, a plan to ensure the school wouldn't overflow before the transition.

It served as an enrollment cap and stated, "The maximum class size for the two years (or until the K-4 configuration) will be the median point between desirable and minimum standard." That amounted to 22 students for grades K-2, 24 for grades three and four and 27 for grades five and six.

Even though the plan was intended to help Franklin if it had as many as 60 new students, it didn't include a clause for situations when only a few students would be affected, like this year when there are only six.

"Nothing is seamless and perfect," said Mark Cook, principal at Jefferson. "The district just did it so Franklin wouldn't be busting at its seams."

Cook said even though only six students are affected, there is no reason to do anything about it, now that the cap is in its last year. "We're glad to have the students at our school."

At a disadvantage

Cook said the current situation puts students like Tiffany and Casey Haselbusch at a disadvantage because they don't get to attend their neighborhood school and they miss the last few minutes of class.

Joanie Skinner, Tiffany Haselbusch's teacher, agrees with Cook and said a lot of things happen during the last few minutes of the day.

"Tiffany has to leave at 3 o'clock and we're not really done yet," Skinner said. "She loses time for follow-up directions and misses the announcements at the end of the day."

Skinner spends the last few minutes of the day checking the other 17 students' bags, making sure they have their spelling words and other things they need to take home. Tiffany misses out on the final check, which means she sometimes leaves without her homework.

Assistant superintendent Cathy Evans said next fall the district won't force any of the kids to go to Franklin if they don't want to, but if they choose to stay at Jefferson transportation to and from the school would become an issue.

Evans believes the other four kids want to go back to Franklin, but if Tiffany and Casey want to stay at Jefferson, the district will have to figure something out.

"It's an issue that just hasn't come up yet," Evans said. "If it comes up at the end of the year, we'll look at it then."

But Tiffany and Casey already know what they want to do: Stay.

"I don't want to go to Franklin," said Tiffany. "I like it at Jefferson. I like my friends and my Girl Scout troop."

Her mother, Christina Haselbusch, has different thoughts.

"They have to go over to Franklin and wait for those kids to get out of school every day anyway," she said. "I just hope next year they can get on the bus at Franklin and come home."

There is one other thing standing in the way of the girls finishing elementary school at Jefferson -- their 3-year-old sister Nora, who will start kindergarten in two years.

"If Nora has to go to Franklin, the other two are going to have to," Christina Haselbusch said.

335-6611, extension 128

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