Three high school buidings

Those who don’t like St. Joseph’s public schools can consider private education, home schooling or a move outside the city limits.

But those options aren’t available to everyone. For those who are truly unsatisfied, open enrollment serves as a safety valve of last resort.

Talk of redrawing boundaries or restricting open enrollment will make a lot of people unhappy. At first glance, it’s a move that doesn’t make sense heading into 2020, when the St. Joseph School District is likely to seek voter approval of some kind of bond issue for renovation or construction of high school facilities.

Viewed one way, open enrollment gives the families something that they want: flexibility and a degree of choice. At the high school level, this could mean that around 177 students choose Central High School at the expense of Benton and Lafayette.

This movement of high school students can be interpreted another way. Simply put, there are too many families in St. Joseph who are not satisfied with the opportunity their children will get at the high school closest to home. We hope they’re moving for academic reasons, but we all know that sports and other factors play a role at times.

This freedom of movement makes some people happy, but it fails to address core issues, especially at the high school level. If more than 100 families are willing to bolt, then the district has bigger issues to fix than boundaries.

Critics of open enrollment point to the fact that few other districts in the state allow families to pick and choose high schools so easily. That’s only part of the problem.

For too long, open enrollment has served as a Band-Aid that allows St. Joseph to cover up deficiencies in educational opportunities in different parts of town. It might please those who take advantage, but not everyone is able to do so. Open enrollment then becomes an inefficient and uneven way to improve educational opportunities across the board.

A better option would be to pursue what the Board of Education is trying to do now, with a systematic upgrade of high school facilities for everyone. Whether it’s one, two or three is a consensus yet to be reached, but demand for open enrollment should serve as a signal that all is not right with the status quo. In a sense, the demand for open enrollment affirms the need to do something about high school facilities in this city.

A reconsideration of open enrollment shouldn’t be viewed a punishment or as something being taken away from the people of St. Joseph. If the district is to ensure that every child has access to the same quality of education, open enrollment isn’t best way to get there.