How does Tumwater’s Out of District population compare with other Districts

In a prior blog, I discussed the budget impact of interdistrict transfer(IDT) students(click here for blog).  I felt the next logical step was to determine the quantum of IDT students in Tumwater, especially in comparison to other districts.  I set out to determine how Tumwater(TSD) compares to North Thurston(NTPS) and Olympia(OSD) School Districts.  Through a series of public records requests, I was able to piece together a summary showing how many IDT students in these three districts are attending schools outside their home boundaries.  See chart below.  “Transfer IN” are those students coming into a District, while “Transfer Out” are those student exiting a District.  

****The chart does not include students at Avanti, New Market(NMHS) or Secondary Options(SO) as the Districts have cooperative agreements regarding placements into those schools and they appear to be generally not subject to IDT policies.  

TSD ACCEPTS SIGNIFICANTLY MORE IDT STUDENTS THAN SURROUNDING DISTRICTS

As a reminder, an IDT student is any student who does not reside within the District boundaries. Just to be clear, I did not include Interzone transfers, which are those students who do not attend their home school, but do attend a school within their home school district’s boundaries(i.e a student who lives in Peter G boundaries, but attends Black Lake).  

As you can see, just under 6% of TSD’s students do not reside within TSD Boundaries.  This is about double that of OSD, and about 8X that of NTPS.  Notably, TSD has a Net Gain of 178 students when comparing the Transfer IN vs. the Transfer OUT categories.  My initial conclusion is that TSD accepts significantly more IDT students than NTPS and OSD, especially when considering overall enrollment.  

TUMWATER HIGH SCHOOL ACCEPTS IDT STUDENTS AT A RATE THAT IS NOT COMPARABLE WITH ANY OTHER SCHOOL.

The data for individual TSD schools is as follows:  

The horizontal line at the top of the chart is where the students are coming from.  The vertical line on the left is where those students attend in TSD.  Notably, the IDT population is in the 3% to 6% range for all TSD schools except THS.  Tumwater High School is a statistical outlier when compared to other TSD schools as over 15% of students at THS do not reside within the TSD boundaries. 

Further, the first chart above shows the IDT rate for all seven high schools in TSD, OSD and NTPS.  THS far outpaces IDT enrollment when compared to the other high schools.  In fact, the rate of IDT students at THS more than doubles the rate of its nearest competitor(Capital High at 7%). 

THS accepts disproportionately more IDT students when compared to the other schools.  

TSD’S POLICIES WITH RESPECT TO IDT STUDENTS APPEAR TO BE APPLIED IN AN INCONSISTENT MANNER

TSD’s primary interdistrict transfer policy, which is set forth in a document labelled Procedure 3141 is somewhat vague, and contains relatively loose guidelines.  However, that policy is supplemented with Procedure 3141P, which sets forth strict prerequisites that must be considered with transfer students—the primary one being how accepting the IDT students impacts TSD resident students.   

The policy requires the superintendent to designate schools with capacity . . . space must be available in the school, grade, class and/or program requested.  The policy also requires TSD to post this information on the TSD website.  I am unaware of such information being posted and am a little confused as to the current process.  I have placed an email to TSD to see if I can get clarification.  

Further, the policy also requires TSD to notify applicant families within 45 days of receipt of the applications.  My understanding is that TSD schools start accepting applications in January/February.  Admittedly, I am not overly familiar with the scheduling/placement process, but it would difficult to accurately determine capacity(and enrollment) six months in advance.  A strict reading of the policy leads one to believe no TSD resident students are being adversely affected with the acceptance of IDT students.  

I do not believe that is the case.  Nearly 20% of the elementary classrooms in TSD are at impact levels.  In addition, many of the high schools classes are overcrowded.  I will not get into examples here, but at the most recent board meeting the Tumwater representative student indicated one her classes had 40 students where there were not enough desks for all the students and she also mentioned the Calculus class where some students were forced to travel to BHHS during that hour.  

In speaking with several principals and the TSD administrative staff, my understanding is that the principals are charged with making the decisions for their own building.  This seems inconsistent with the stated policy.     

THERE ARE MANY POLICY CONSIDERATIONS IN DETERMINING THE ACCEPTANCE OF IDT STUDENTS

From a financial perspective, at least with the current funding model, there can be no dispute that acceptance of IDT students (1) results in an increased deficit and (2) also generally reduces the funds available for the TSD resident students .  For a more in depth discussion on the budgetary impact of IDT students, please click here to visit my prior blog.  

From a policy perspective, there are non-financial considerations for and against accepting IDT students.  Among them, increasing the student population presumably results in broader diversity, more options with respect academic and extra curricular opportunities and a more competitive environment.  The counter argument is that there are only so many spots to go around and TSD resident students are denied opportunities when spots are filled by IDT students(in classrooms and extracurricular activities). The above certainly is not intended to be an exhaustive list of the pros and cons.  

Ultimately, like most policy determinations, the TSD Board is charged with making the ultimate decision and providing the desired guidelines.  I think TSD could do better in this area.   

COMMENTARY

IDT students have traditionally been an integral and valued part of the THS culture and it is not feasible, and I would argue not desired, to completely reject all IDT students.  I would submit that TSD should come up with a comprehensive and well thought out policy regarding IDT transfers.  The current policy is inadequate and results in a lack of predictability and consistency.  At the very least, I would expect the policy consider the following:

1. Offer some priority to children of TSD Staff;

2. Pursuant to the current policy, set some specific parameters with respect to classroom capacity/placement (i.e. placement/schedules are done for resident students in advance of accepting IDT students to ensure no resident student is displaced);

3.  Limit new IDT students significantly under the present funding model unless TSD can show minimal negative impact for resident students;

4.  Limit acceptance of IDT students until all Interzone transfers have been considered;

5. Where IDT spots are available, create come criteria and priority so there is balance and consistency from school to school.   

6. Appreciate a nominal number of IDT applicants present circumstances with overriding factors, and should be accepted regardless of the stated criteria

I hope this information is helpful and creates what I believe is a much needed discussion.  As always, we appreciate feedback, and also invite others to write guest blogs in the event you are so inclined.  scottkee@citizensfortumwaterschools.com 

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