So many students and parents are interested in the Orcutt Union school district’s charter program that officials are considering giving enrollment preference to those within district boundaries.
The number of students waiting on enrollment lists for the charter’s K-8 Casmalia campus and Orcutt Academy High School has steadily grown since the charter’s creation in 2008.
New students vie for open slots by putting their names in a random computerized lottery every February.
With wait-list figures climbing into the hundreds, trustees now are deciding how to best keep the schools — designed on the premise of small class sizes and greater academic focus — within their original mission.
The Casmalia campus caps enrollment at 81, with nine students in each grade. Orcutt Academy High serves a maximum of 600, or 150 students in each grade.
Joe Dana, director of charter programs, presented trustees with three options for discussion at a regular board meeting last week.
The charter can continue status quo, with double weighting in the lottery for district residents; raise the weighting of district residents; or grant residents preference over nonresidents.
About 60 percent of students in the K-8 campus are from outside the district, whereas about 20 percent of high school students are outside boundaries, Dana said last week.
Preference is already granted at both schools for children of members of the charter founder’s committee, children of district teaching staff and siblings of current students.
“The Orcutt Academy has grown in popularity,” Dana said. “The K-8 campus seems to have drawn a lot of attention from outside the district. It’s in our hearts to serve all kids. Unfortunately, we have limits. Facilities have limits. We’re not able to serve everyone.”
Dana said the K-8 campus is maxed out every year.
More than 170 students applied for K-8 spots last year and more than 280 applied at the high school, most for freshman spots, Dana said.
The high school is still under capacity by 50 students because of smaller older grades, but large younger classes lead officials to believe the campus will soon max out as well.
Board clerk Kathy Meissner said trustees are leaning toward granting preference for residents at Orcutt Academy High because it was created as the lone high school option for the Orcutt district.
“There’s so much interest now because the school has been so successful,” Meissner said.
She said they’re unsure what to do with the K-8 campus.
It’s unlikely they will give district preference, Meissner added, because the school was partly created to boost revenue in a time of declining enrollment by bringing in outside kids.
The campus serves a handful of Casmalia students, as well as others from Orcutt, Santa Maria, Lompoc, Guadalupe and Nipomo.
“Part of the idea was generating new children for our district,” Meissner said. “It is an Orcutt school, but we’re not going to go to fully Orcutt. Even with giving Orcutt families first dibs at the high school, we will not be able to accept them all.”
Trustees are set to make a decision about lottery changes during their Oct. 10 charter board meeting.
Meissner said making a decision is important because academy recruitment begins in November.
The board is trying to respond to community needs, she said, noting the charter’s success.
“It’s really a tribute to the staff, children and the parents,” Meissner said. “It’s surpassed the dream.”