How many dropouts are there in Wellington? Far fewer than the school district actually has on its books, educators say.
They are worried about the way charter school students, open-enrollers, and students affected by family court decisions are tracked.
Interim superintendent Tom Tucker said in an Oct. 11 school board meeting that much of the trouble is created by how the state’s Education Management Information System, or EMIS, works.
When a student chooses to leave a district and open enroll in another, it’s up to the district the student leaves to report that information to the Ohio Department of Education. If the student remains on the books in their former district, it registers as someone who receives zeroes and does not attend school, he said.
“When a student leaves your district, you have to code them and find out where they went,” Tucker said. “There are a lot of students who’ve left Wellington for various reasons and we’re now in the process cleaning up this information. This hurts us in our graduation rates. It shows on reports as a dropout.”
Tucker said when a student enrolls in a charter school, the public district they leave is not informed whether that student switches schools again later on, which creates further complication.
“They don’t have to tell us anything,” he said. “We have to track them down. It’s just the way it works in Ohio.”
He said more EMIS reporting responsibility should fall on the district that gains the student.
“It’s not fair,” he said. “The state has said these are your students and you have to trace them. So if a student moves to Chicago and enrolls in an online school, it’s up to us to find them. When a student leaves our district to attend Keystone, reporting that is doable. When they leave to go to a large district like Cleveland, or even worse, out of state, it can be very hard to find them.”
Enrollment in Wellington is expected to be “down slightly” when final numbers are in for this year, Tucker said. The number of students whose enrollment could be misreported or any resulting financial hit to the district is yet to be determined.
The Elyria and Keystone school districts have passed resolutions demanding the return of state funds they say have been taken away by the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, an online charter school. Wellington school board members discussed the issue briefly at the meeting. The ODE says more than $100 million is taken away from public school state funding every year by the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow.
“Taking action would be a board decision,” said Tucker. “A lot of districts are taking that stand. We don’t have a lot of Wellington students in ECOT but we do have some.”
META Solutions, an educational consulting firm, handles the Wellington district’s EMIS reporting on an annual $40,000 contract.
It has been in charge of EMIS reporting since former business manager, Tim Wulfhoop, was terminated from that position in April because he lacked proper licensing. His wife, Lois Wulfhoop, resigned from her position on the school board in August. She was accused by school board member Ayers Ratliff of “paving the way” to hire her husband.
That situation has since been investigated by the Ohio Ethics Commission, the ODE, and the Ohio auditor of state’s office.
Wellington Schools treasurer Tina Gabler said the process of reporting the movement of students has hurt the district’s record-keeping as much as the student moving out in the first place.
“Unless you have a very well-experienced EMIS person, it’s easy for these kind of things to slip through the cracks,” she said. “META was hired to kind of pick up the pieces after last year.”
Board members also weighed the merits of continuing EMIS services through META, or to find a district employee who could perform the duties.
“When I was hired, I realized we didn’t have an EMIS coordinator and that’s huge,” said Gabler. “I suggested that since we had no one in-house to do that, we contract with META again for this year. Now that we’ve done that, the question becomes what we’ll do for next year. We’ll evaluate the district to see if there’s a good candidate to go through training to become an EMIS coordinator, which is extensive.”
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.
Jonathan Delozier | Wellington Enterprise Wellington schools interim superintendent Tom Tucker said the district needs to clean up information reported to the state in its enrollment numbers.