ANDERSON — Anderson Community Schools and Frankton-Lapel Community Schools each have had to adjust the way they run their districts because of a 27 percent shift in population.
In ACS’s case, the shift for the 2018-19 school year is a loss of about 2,459 students, with about 588 transferring out of the district to Frankton-Lapel. The figures are the most recent released by the Indiana Department of Education in its Spring 2017-18 Public Corporation Transfer Report.
At 831 students, Frankton-Lapel picked up the most in the county.
“We are pleased to compile and release the Spring transfer report, providing our schools with even more insight into the individual students they serve,” said Jennifer McCormick, Indiana superintendent of public instruction, in a prepared statement. “Having a greater understanding of every aspect of our local districts will allow our educators to make important decisions and better plans.”
ACS Superintendent Timothy Smith said he believes much of the problem lies in the image of the district among people who have little experience with it. He said unfortunately, many people maintain misconceptions of the quality of ACS schools without understanding how good they actually are.
“I think in any district that people move to in central Indiana, in the United States, you’re going to find people who think the school system is no good, no matter how good it is,” he said.
Smith admitted the image issues may be historically accurate but that things have changed dramatically for the better over the past decade. The district, he said, offers academic progress, strong support systems and amazing opportunities for students.
For instance, he said, when he speaks with residents, many bring up their perception that Highland Middle School is really one big daily brawl. But the school reported only about five fights last year.
Many Indiana school districts have always allowed student transfers. But in the past, parents had to pay transfer tuition.
That changed under the administration of former Gov. Mitch Daniels, who like many Hoosiers, believed tuition money kicked in by the state should follow the student. Districts were able to resist that argument until lawmakers took the general funds, previously funded through local property taxes out of their hands in favor of a state funding formula.
“Ever since then, it’s been a competition for students. I don’t necessarily think it’s a good thing,” he said.
Now transfer tuition is free, allowing parents to choose from neighboring schools. That, Smith said, hurts districts like his that are in close proximity to several other districts.
“To some extent, the families are able to play the game a little bit and able to find transportation to those schools as well,” he said.
But Smith said he does have a strategy for combating the misinformation.
“Part of our strategy is to have people come and check us out for themselves,” he said. “Visitors are most of the time shocked at the quality of education taking place, the cleanliness of our buildings and the consistency and uniformity of our programs. It’s a great environment for kids to learn in.”
Frankton-Lapel Superintendent Bobby Fields agreed the popularity of his district, in part, may be due to some misconceptions. For instance, he said, some people equate the smallness of a school district with smaller class sizes, an assumption that simply may not be true.
Fields said most of his transfer students come from Anderson and Hamilton County.
“Lapel has a little more. They have a few more transfers percentage-wise than Frankton does,” he said.
Frankton-Lapel’s size isn’t its only attraction, Fields said.
“We have a good reputation for academics, and I think that helps,” he said.
But Fields doesn’t rest on his district’s laurels.
“One of the challenges is we need to work hard to keep those kids because they could go back to their home district at any time. If they all went back in one year, that would be a huge amount of funding that we’d lose.”
ONE-YEAR WAITING LIST
At Daleville Community Schools, transfer students continue to make up 44 percent of the student population. And the district has a one-year waiting list.
Daleville officials said their schools benefit from a sort of twin cities effect because of the nearness of and cooperation with Chesterfield, just across the county line. In fact, most of his district’s transfer students come from Anderson, and of those, they mostly come from Chesterfield, they said.
“For some of the kids, though we’re not in their school district, we have the closest schools,” said Superintendent Paul Garrison.
Most of the students, he said, come to Daleville when they start kindergarten because of word of mouth.
“Other customers have been served well and told their friends they like it here,” he said.
Daleville Assistant Superintendent David Stashevsky said even when parents seek to transfer their children out of their home school district, most are looking for the nearest alternative.
“If you believe in the concept of going to the local neighborhood school, we’re it for them,” he said of the students from Chesterfield. “We don’t have many who drive a great distance.”
One factor that may make a difference in the future is the construction of the new Salem Place apartments, Stashevsky said.
“It’s just a wait-and-see game to see whether that impacts our resident population,” he said.
“The district, naturally, gives preference to students who actually live in the district, but transfer students already in the district never will be displaced and would be able to attend through graduation or a move away from the area,” Stashevsky said.