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Aiming to 'ad' students

A little advertising can go a long way. That's what some local school leaders in Wisconsin are finding as they try to sell students and parents on the attractions of their schools.

Since the enactment of a law that lets parents enroll their children in public schools outside their home districts, a handful of school systems have begun running advertisements in local papers in an effort to boost sagging enrollment.

While only a handful of the state's 425 districts have used the technique, officials of those mainly smaller districts think such efforts are paying off.

Attracting outside students is a plus in tough financial times, said Robert Woelfl, the business manager for the 2,780-student Port Washington-Saukville district.

"We are really kind of strapped because our expenditures are capped," he said. The district receives $4,500 in state aid for each out-of-district student. Ads in the local paper, which district officials began running in January, cost less than $300.

Mary Jo Cleaver, the coordinator of the state's open-enrollment program, said 4,800 students took advantage of school choice this school year, nearly double last year's figure. And she predicted the number would only keep growing.

"There are a lot of districts in Wisconsin that are losing enrollment," she said. "Some districts can make up for a loss of revenue through open enrollment."

School officials with the 475-student Kohler school district attribute some of their success in attracting 52 open-enrollment students this school year to advertising. "We made a decision to market the district and say, 'Look at us, and if we are a right match, you might want to consider us,'" said John Egan, the district administrator.

Port Washington's interim superintendent, Al Rosenthal, said late last week that so far 14 out-of-district students had enrolled there for next year. He believes five of them were influenced by the ads.

"I think there will be more [districts] advertising," he said.

—John Gehring

Vol. 19, Issue 24, Page 18

Published in Print: February 23, 2000, as State Journal

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