MONTGOMERY —The fastest growing school corporation in Daviess County is easily Barr-Reeve. The corporation's growth has little to do with the number of families moving into the district and a lot to do with attracting students from neighboring school systems.
"Transfers have been big for us," said Barr-Reeve School Superintendent Dr. Travis Madison. "In percentage terms, we probably take a higher amount of transfers than most schools. We have a lot of folks come in. Last year, is was 20-to-25-percent of the student population from outside of the district."
Barr-Reeve's growth has roughly coincided with different state regulations that opened the way to those transfers. For years, schools were limited to educating the kids in their district. When the state changed the funding to the money follows the student, that opened up the movement of students to different districts.
The school board though has decided to formalize some of the caps and rules for transfers.
"It has helped us, but we felt it was time to put some guardrails on that," said Madison. "We don't want to hinder anyone from coming in. If they want to check out Barr-Reeve we encourage them to do so. We feel like we are a good option for families."
That option is one families in the area have increasingly embraced and the growth has some school officials feeling like in order to maintain the things that make Barr-Reeve what it is, they may need to tap the brakes a little.
"We want to put some parameters on that and make certain we are not growing too fast," said Madison. "We want to be sure we meet the needs of those new students coming in but also those of the families that are already here. It's really trying to put a system in place for us to make sure we are providing the best service we can to everyone."
That system in many ways already existed. It just wasn't written down in a policy. Now it is.
"It really formalized the things we were already doing," said Madison. "By putting it in writing, folks will know what is expected and they know how we are going operate."
The rules begin with what the school corporation tries to adhere to in terms of class sizes, limiting classrooms to 16 to 22 students per room and no more than 88 students in a grade. Transfer priorities are given to the children of school staff members, a student who already has a sibling at Barr-Reeve, a parent who already owns property in the school district and, after that, the availability in each class. The student cannot have been expelled from another school or have a poor attendance record.
"We feel we have a lot to offer students and families; a small school environment, a conservative environment," said Madison. "One that folks are looking for with small class sizes, but good programming, great academics and exceptional athletics. Those are the things folks are looking for when they come in and they find them here with us."
And what Barr-Reeve finds with the transfer students is an unexpected source of funding. Even though Barr-Reeve has one of the lowest tuition support rates in the state, those transfer students bring in between $5,000 and $6,000 per student. The bottom line is big.
"It's anywhere from a half-million to a million dollars in additional revenue each year to take care of our kids and take care of our teachers and all those things you need to run a school," said Madison.
That number could be even larger if the dollars truly followed the student. A student going to Washington would generate $1,200 additional tuition. All of that money does not follow the student to Barr-Reeve. The state only pays the standard tuition support for a Barr-Reeve student. "We probably lose in the neighborhood of $200,000 per year because of that," said Madison.
Some of the complaints about the high rate of transfers is that the numbers forced the schools to move into the current construction project because the additional students have crowded the school. Madison says that is not entirely the case.
"What caused the need for the construction was our need to upgrade the primary facilities at St. Johns and we didn't own the building," said Madison. "That meant finding a place to put the primary inside of our existing facility and that led to the current construction."
While transfers have had a big impact at Barr-Reeve, school officials want to be certain they don't become so large they lose their identity.
"People come here because of who we are," said board member Alex Knepp. "This policy will help us stay the way we are."
What the transfer students do is help insulate the possibility of maintaining the small school feel by providing the extra money to keep the smaller class sizes.
"It gives us a buffer," said Madison. "With the extra revenue it is easier to bring in another teacher and create a new section."
While the construction project is about preparing for the future, it may turn out to be about filling up fast enough that another project won't be far off in the future.
"We will be full," said Madison. "We will be using everything when the construction is done. We won't be bursting at the seams. There will be rooms for four sections for each grade with 16 to 20 kids in each section. It will put us where we can still promise a good student-teacher ratio."