Sandwich Superintendent Suggests Using School Choice Funds For Advertising

Sandwich School Superintendent C. Richard Canfield would like to be more aggressive in attracting students to Sandwich schools from outside the district.

He told the school committee that, at a recent meeting with superintendents from other towns, he learned that Sandwich may not be working hard enough to bring students into the district through School Choice, a program that allows families throughout the area to pick the best school district for their child.

When a child switches district, state aid dollars follow that child to the new district.

It is some of that money that the other superintendents are using to promote their schools.

During his presentation to the school committee earlier this month, Dr. Canfield relayed this information and suggested that Sandwich consider doing the same, buying advertising to lure School Choice students to the Sandwich School District, and paying for the advertising with School Choice funds. The aim, Dr. Canfield said, would be to address the situation the board is faced with, having to dip into Fiscal Year 2013 School Choice funds that are typically held in reserve for FY2014, in order to balance the budget.

Sandwich, similar to many communities on the Cape, has been grappling with an outflow of students from their school district. In some cases, families prefer parochial schools for religious reasons. Still other families prefer to follow family tradition by having their child attend a certain private or charter school. A survey was recently sent out to all Sandwich families with school-age children to determine the reasons that families opt out of the Sandwich schools.

Dr. Canfield also said he is already concerned about the budget process for FY 2014. He explained that with School Choice funds being tapped to balance this year’s budget, the school committee could begin the budget process as much as $250,000 in the hole.

He said it occurred to him that advertising might help offset the use of School Choice funds by luring more School Choice students to Sandwich. He said, however, it should only be done for schools and at grade levels where there is a vacant seat that can be filled without incurring any further staffing cost.

“We already have a teacher in place, so there’s no additional cost,” he noted. Dr. Canfield went on to explain that when the school administration plans for a classroom, curriculum-wise, it is planned with a specific number of students in mind and supplied accordingly.

Committee member Marie A. Kangas expressed concern over the possible depletion of School Choice funds on an advertising campaign that could stretch out over a long period of time. She asked Dr. Canfield if he knew how often the ads would run and what the cost might be.

“I’m just concerned about utilizing what’s left of these funds at this point in time,” she said.

Dr. Canfield said he believed the advertising could be done at a fairly reasonable cost. Robert P. Catalini, a member of the committee’s marketing subcommittee said he did not think it would cost “more than a couple of thousand dollars.”

Sandwich Schools Business Manager Michelle Austin said that there is about $101,000 left of the School Choice funds after applying what was necessary to balance the budget.

Board member Susan B. Sundermeyer asked what the application season is, to get a better sense of when such an ad should run. Dr. Canfield said that it is now, and that request letters typically come in between February and May.

Dr. Canfield told the committee that he would also want to provide a cushion to accommodate children who might move into Sandwich, allowing space for them to attend school. “They have a right to attend the schools,” Dr. Canfield said.

Mr. Catalini said he was in favor of advertising and pointed to the school district’s website as a source of advertising that would be cost-free. “Most people today, if they’re looking for information, they’re going to go to the district website,” he suggested. No one objected to Dr. Canfield’s suggestion, which the superintendent said he raised merely to get a consensus from the committee as to its merit.

Dr. Canfield also reminded the board that there are procedures to follow with regard to the practice of bringing out-of-district students into Sandwich Schools. Those procedures involve interviews with principals and feedback to the superintendent.

“We are really looking at each child in terms of what their needs are and what they bring to the system,” he said. He noted that it is important that the placement be right for both the school district and the child, not just a matter of writing a letter and signing off on their acceptance.

“There is, in essence, a quality control component,” he said.

Ms. Sundermeyer then asked what would lead to a student being rejected, and Dr. Canfield replied, “It is up to the superintendent.”

School board member Andrea M. Killion asked if there is communication with the other school district to determine ahead of time if a student coming into the Sandwich school district could pose problems. Dr. Canfield said there are discussions and that the administration does “try to be respectful and trusting.”

“Make no mistake about it, our first and foremost responsibility is to the Town of Sandwich and to its residents, and we do take that process very seriously,” Dr. Canfield said.

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