Birmingham Public Schools is now part of Michigan's Schools of Choice program — at least, that is, on a limited basis.
And even so, they're not happy about it.
On Tuesday night, the Birmingham Board of Education voted to open six seats for 11th graders at the district's Lincoln Alternative School as part of the state's Schools of Choice program, which opens up enrollment to all students in Oakland County.
By joining Schools of Choice, Birmingham Public Schools now meets seven of eight "best practices" outlined by the state, giving the district access to an additional $430,000 for its 2012-13 budget.
Still, school board members and even Superintendent Daniel Nerad said the decision to join Schools of Choice was difficult and should not be seen as an endorsement of the program.
"This proposal should not be viewed as a public policy recommendation in favor of Schools of Choice," Nerad said. "If it didn't have the possibility of helping the district's budget situation, this would not be before you."
District facing bigger deficit for 2012-13, Schools of Choice deemed 'inherently unfair'
Birmingham has never participated in Schools of Choice — which makes it easier for non-residents to attend a school in another town without the approval of their home district — long contending the program is "inherently unfair."
, which would have made Schools of Choice mandatory for all Michigan schools. Trustee Michael Fenberg noted at the time that if Birmingham was compelled to participate in the program, the district may have to accept students but not receive any additional funds to educate them.
And on Tuesday, Trustees Lori Soifer and Geri Rinschler still voted against the plan, contending they couldn't accept Schools of Choice in any iteration.
"Philosophically, I have not supported this concept," Rinschler said.
Soifer agreed. "In this recent legislative session, we've lobbied against statewide School of Choice," Soifer said. "I don't want our district to be seen as supporting Schools of Choice by the state."
But for many in the administration and the majority of school board members, the promise of $430,000 was too good to pass up.
Also on Tuesday, the board voted to amend its 2012-13 budget to account for an additonal $2 million in unforseen expenditures. The district is now facing a $2.9 million budget deficit this fiscal year — up from $2.3 million when the board first approved the budget last summer.
Trustee Susan Hill said that she was vehemently opposed to Schools of Choice at various school board committee meetings but changed her mind when she saw the new budget figures.
"I can't look down the nose of $2.9 mllion and walk away from money on the table," she said.
School board president calls process 'malarky'
Birmingham will receive the additional funding for meeting seven of eight "best practices" outlined by the state. Those best practices include:
- Serve as a policy holder for employees' medical benefits
- Contract out non-instructional services
- Measure student growth twice a year or provide the Michigan Department of Education with a plan showing progress toward developing the district's technology infrastructure
- Provide dual enrollment or opportunities for post-secondary coursework
- Provide online learning or blended learning opportuities
- Make the district data dashboard available to parents and the public
- Participate in Schools of Choice
The only practice Birmingham officials decided they couldn't meet was to provide physical education and health classes that met State Board of Education standards. Deputy Superintendent for Educational Services Paul DeAngelis said the district hasn't found a way to meet this practice without sacrificing time spent in the classroom.
By meeting these seven practices, however, Birmingham will now receive an additional $52 per student in state aid. During the 2011-12 school year, .
Even so, school board members were uncomfortable giving the green light to Schools of Choice, with Trustee Robert Lawrence calling the program a "flaming hoop to jump through" and President Michael Fenberg calling the whole process "malarky."
"We've always been a lighthouse district in terms of best practices," Fenberg said. "We've been on the edge of best practices for many years ... It's insulting that they can come up with this kind of malarky and call it a best practice."
According to DeAngelis, the district will officially announce the six open seats and begin accepting applications Wednesday. Applications will be accepted for the 2013-14 school year through Feb. 1. For registration information, call 248-203-3089.
Should the district receive more than six applications, the district will hold a lottery for the seats. Birmingham's alternative education program, open to all high school students, is currently housed at Seaholm High School.