The Burlington School District's open enrollment problems are the result of perception, the Burlington School Board learned Monday after reviewing the results of a study that sought to determine what's driving students to leave the district.

The board in March agreed to enter into a $4,000 contract with Steff 7 Solutions, a start-up analytical firm comprised of a group of tenured University of Iowa professors including Director Gary Steffensmeier, whose educational degrees include a masters in educational measurement and statistics, to examine why students open enroll out of the Burlington School District. Steffensmeier attended the board meeting Monday to share what the firm found.

"To succeed, we've got to find out where you're at," Steffensmeier told the board.

The district is losing $4.4 million in general fund money and $216,000 in Teacher Leadership and Compensation (TLC) money as a result of the 676 students who open enrolled out of the district in the 2017-18 school year. The number of students open enrolling out slowed between the 2016-17 school year and last year, during which time 14 more students left the district, compared to the 2015-16 and 2016-17 loss, which saw an increase of 51 students leaving the district. Still, the number has risen significantly since the 2008-09 school year, when 369 students were open enrolled out.

To learn the driving force behind open enrollment, Steff 7 compiled survey responses from 339 people, 210 of whom were faculty and staff members and 129 of whom were parents of open enrolled students.

Response percentages varied between written and telephone surveys, but at the top of the list for each was safety concerns, followed by schools being too big. Other major reasons were large class sizes, reputation of schools and having a family member who lives near or in another district.

Steffensmeier said interviews with school administrators and staff indicate some of those reasons, such as school safety, may be more based on perception than fact. He said staff indicated there was a span of several months, about one-third of the school year, during which there were no physical altercations at the high school.

"The amount of things happening at this school and districts around are probably very similar," Steffensmeier said.

However, one district employee wrote they don't send their children there because they feel the high school is out of control. Another staff member wrote they do not feel they are being supported by administration on discipline issues.

Steffensmeier said another issue that came up during the study was staff speaking unfavorably about the district in the community.

"One of the things we're having is that staff are talking negatively about the district out in the community," he said. "It's really important you're getting the right message out to the public."

On the survey, staff indicated the district gets more negative media coverage than it deserves, specifically pointing to honor rolls. Steffensmeier suggested putting more effort into highlighting student and district accomplishments, such as the fact the high school has more than 170 classes on campus, many of which are for college credit, the fact students can earn 18 credits in a school year and that the district offers summer school programs for both enrichment and remedial at all grade levels.

In other action, the board approved the second reading of Board Policy 605.10, which provides guidelines for service animals on school grounds.

The board also approved a renewal of a three-year agreement with Edgenuity for the use of its libraries and learning platform. Edgenuity primarily is used by Burlington High School, Burlington Innovative Learning Academy and Home School Assist Program (HSAP) for credit recovery. The program costs the district $28,000 per year and is paid for using drop-out prevention and HSAP funds.

Curriculum Director Cory Johnson said during the past three years, students have obtained 1,400 credits, making it the cost equivalent to $60 per credit hour for the district.

Coen said students wanting to make room for more elective courses in their schedules are able to take classes through the program at their own pace and at their preferred times.