For School Districts, It's Never too Early to Recruit

Courtney Williams's picture
Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Lagging state funding and declining births put more pressure on school officials to find ways to entice and retain students.

First comes the stork, then the schools' sale pitch.


Just months after a baby is born in Mound or its surrounding communities, a large white envelope arrives with a card from Westonka's superintendent, a red-and-white Westonka canvas bag and a tiny Onesie bodysuit stamped with the district's motto. To show its continued interest, the district sends the child a birthday card each year for the next five years.


Competition to snatch up students -- and the state money that follows them -- is intensifying across the metro due to lagging per-pupil school aid and declining births statewide.


With open enrollment an option in Minnesota, more and more parents are looking beyond their neighborhood to find the best school for their child, putting pressure on school districts to find low-cost, creative ways to attract or keep families. Sunday is the deadline for those considering open enrollment to apply to another school district.


"Any school district that doesn't believe it needs to be communicating and marketing will find itself with a different budget situation," said Janet Swiecichowski, communications director in Minnetonka schools. "It would be akin to a business saying 'I don't need any new customers.'"


Signs of the lengths that schools are going to for early recruitment are evident across the metro. Chaska, Hopkins and Minnetonka all hand out similar baby bags to encourage families to join their early childhood classes. Hopkins started airing local public radio ads three years ago for an immersion program. And this year St. Paul public schools launched radio ads and a marketing campaign to win back students who left for charter schools.

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