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District schools keep kids around

Students who live in the District 196 attendance area appear to be happy with the education they're getting at their public schools.

The district announced last week that 88.6 percent of students who live in the district attend public schools. According to consultant Hazel Reinhardt that is among the best rates in the state.

According to the most recent enrollment numbers there are 30,106 school-age children living within the boundaries of District 196. Of those, 26,661 attend district schools. More than half of those who don't -- 1,850 -- attend private schools. Another 426 are home schooled.

"Public schools are competing effectively with the many educational options parents have for their children," superintendent John Currie said.

The number of private- and home schooled students is declining. In 2005-06 there were 2,024 district students attending private school and 454 being home schooled. The district's overall student population is also declining.

Maintaining a healthy capture rate -- the technical term for the percentage of students who attend public schools in their home district -- will be increasingly important for ISD 196 as the overall pool of students declines. With state funding dependent in part on enrollment, more students means more money.

"While if you have fewer students your costs should go down it doesn't totally equate," district communication specialist Tony Taschner said. "As you decline you still have costs that don't necessarily go away. It takes a little bit longer for that to happen."

In some cases that need to keep enrollment up is leading districts to actively court students both within and beyond their borders. In Minneapolis, schools have put up billboards and bus station posters boasting about what they have to offer. According to a December story in the Minnetonka Sun-Sailor newspaper the Minnetonka School District actively recruits students from other districts. According to the paper about 11 percent of the district's 8,118 students are from other districts, with each worth abut $5,124 in funding. Some students come from as far away as White Bear Lake and Albertville.

Taschner said recruiting students hasn't been a priority for ISD 196, which until a few years ago was still growing and adding schools. But Taschner said bringing in students from outside the district could become increasingly important as enrollment continues to shrink.

There has already been some competition for students within the district. When the district opened three magnet elementary schools in 2007 the remaining traditional elementary schools found themselves pitching their strengths to keep students from moving.

"I think you're only going to see more of that," Taschner said. "Even within the district there's competition for students.