April 16, 2014

Elyria
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‘Misleading’ mailer sent out to Elyria families

ELYRIA — Elyria school officials are defending the district’s performance after a piece of literature they say is misleading and unethical was mailed to hundreds of area families by a Columbus organization.

The bright, neon green postcards with the words ‘Do you know your child attends a low-rated school?’ hit local mailboxes last week. They came from School Choice Ohio, a non-profit organization that promotes voucher programs, which allow students of low-performing schools to attend private schools with tax dollars.

The two-sided mailer went on to say that students who attend Franklin Elementary are eligible for up to $5,000 to attend the participating private school of their choice. While Franklin is the only Elyria school eligible for the EdChoice program based on the state criteria linked to their performance and parents can apply for the voucher, Superintendent Paul Rigda said he takes issue with the fact that the mailer apparently was sent district-wide to homes where students attend some of the district’s best-performing schools.

“It’s a shotgun approach, and I have to tell you even Franklin parents were upset about the card, because they are happy with their school,” he said.

Parents have called the district’s central office from several schools ,including McKinley, Windsor and Oakwood, said district spokeswoman Amy Higgins. As a result, Rigda felt compelled to follow up with a mailing touting the district’s continued academic improvement.

“Whatever they wanted to say, they could have said it in a nicer way,” he said. “It’s very demeaning to the people who work in this district, demeaning to the administrators and teachers that are working very hard to improve the district, demeaning to the kids that are working hard and demeaning to the parents that are our partners in education.”

A call requesting comment from a School Choice Ohio representative was not returned.

Rigda said a public records request was made for the district’s directory recently, which included the names, addresses and schools of attendance of all students in the district. However, he is not sure if it was from School Choice Ohio. The district provided the directory at the request as required under Ohio public records laws. Finding out how the directory will be used and by whom is not something they can do before releasing the documents.

Still, Rigda said he contacted the Ohio Department of Education and Ohio attorney general’s office about how the district’s public records were used.

Several area private schools are affiliated with School Choice Ohio and accept EdChoice students.

Bronwyn Tucker, director of admissions and enrollment for Open Door Christian School, said she learned of the postcard after the fact. Tucker said Open Door has a great relationship with both School Choice Ohio and Elyria Schools.

“I’m very sad whenever Elyria Schools is painted in a bad light because we enjoy a great relationship with the district. We have a great relationship with Franklin and so much so that our own students will go there to tutor and try and make a difference,” she said. “School Choice Ohio is a non-profit organization that just wants all parents to know their options for schooling. They are not pro-private or pro-public, and EdChoice is probably one of the best-kept secrets in Ohio and School Choice Ohio tries to get the word out about that.”

Franklin became eligible for the EdChoice program a couple of years ago when the school’s improvement did not meet state standards. This year, test scores have improved and if that continues for another year, Franklin will no longer be eligible for the program.

Rigda said 25 to 30 students in Franklin have taken advantage of the program since its inception at a rate of about three to five students a year. Those parents typically choose a private school with a strong religious component.

“Contrary to what legislators may think, parents don’t want to leave their neighborhood schools,” he said. “But there will always be parents that prefer their children to attend private or parochial schools for whatever reasons, and we do not have a problem with that. We co-exist with private and parochial schools and see them as our partners in education.”

Last school year, Elyria received some of the highest test scores and ratings since the state began looking at academic achievement statewide on a yearly basis and ranking districts. Five elementary schools are ranked as either “excellent with distinction” or “excellent” and no school in Elyria is rated as being in “academic watch” or “academic emergency” — the lowest ratings a school can get.

The performance levels of 12 schools in Lorain County make their students eligible for the EdChoice program. Eleven are in Lorain.

Lorain board member Jim Smith said he is not aware if a similar mailer was targeted toward Lorain parents, but he wouldn’t be surprised.

“I know the school choice people are very adamant about getting their message out and are really into marketing these programs,” he said.

Hundreds of Ohio schools are on the EdChoice eligibility list.

“I don’t know how pervasive this was across the state, but no one in Elyria deserved this,” Rigda said. “This thing was a low blow. It’s not fair and not true. Virtually 85 percent of the recipients do not attend low-performing schools.”

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.