The School Committee discusses School Choice openings during its March 7 meeting.
Reminder Publishing screen capture by Tyler Garnet

SOUTH HADLEY — During the School Committee meeting on March 7, the group approved School Choice openings for the 2024-25 school year.

The committee approved 98 School Choice slots for next year.

Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Business Operations Jennifer Voyik discussed the breakdown and decision for the number of slots for each grade level.

There will be no available slots at the kindergarten level.

Voyik said, “It’s a hard grade to figure out. You know how many kids are moving up from preschool, but except for the census information, which is really a guess at best, it’s really difficulty to pinpoint how many students are going to be enrolling in kindergarten.”

For the next four grade levels and School Choice slots, there will be six in grade 1, five in grade 2, seven in grade 3 and five in grade 4.

Voyik added, “That equals one student per classroom just to give some perspective when you are looking at how many slots. It would only add one student to each of those classrooms in those four grade levels.”

For the middle school, there will be 10 slots in grade 5, five in grade 6, 10 in grade 7 and 10 in grade 8.

“For the middle school it’s a little bit harder as students go in different directions. You have your cohorts in fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth but you also have specials that they go out to,” Voyik said.

The current fifth grade class is a larger class causing sixth grade to have five slots, according to Voyik.

Voyik added, “That is on average one to two students per classroom.”

It was also approved to have 15 slots in grade 9, 5 in grade 10 and 20 in grade 11.

Voyik said that these numbers are based on class size and the currently class coming in.

She added, “We have a smaller class going into grade 9. Grade 9 is typically the grade level we lose some students potentially to vocational programs and other districts if they choose to go to a different program. Also grade 9 is a grade that parents are looking to move into a high school to have their student complete high school in a specific district.”

Readers who are looking to apply for School Choice into South Hadley schools can view the application at southhadleyschools.org/Page/5225.

Since the School Committee has approved the amount of School Choice openings, Superintendent Mark McLaughlin discussed the application process, which is open from mid-March to mid-May.

McLaughlin added, “We talked about being a little more aggressive in our advertising. We will think creatively about being a little more overt in our marketing.”

Once the lottery occurs in May, if there are School Choice spots that are still open, those spots will become available on a first come, first serve basis.

In a prior meeting, the School Committee discussed getting away from relying on the School Choice budget to supplement staff positions in the budget.

Voyik shared that South Hadley schools used to have around 160 to 175 School Choice students before the coronavirus pandemic, but those numbers have dropped to the 60 to 80 student range.

Prior to COVID-19, South Hadley was bringing in approximately $1 million in revenue from School Choice but has dropped to as low as approximately $650,000.

She said, “At some point, when you are carrying over a million dollars in salaries when the district’s relying on that for over a million dollars of your salaries, it’s going to become a problem at some point, and this is the year where we can’t sustain anymore.”

Voyik added that they will be looking at moving $700,000 in salaries to the local budget in order to have a balanced budget.

The School Committee and Select Board are set to discuss the budget on March 20 during a public hearing.

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