By Tom Tolen & Jon King /

The Brighton Area Schools Board of Education has voted to bar out-of-county students from enrolling for in-person instruction in the district’s Schools of Choice program.

The 7-0 vote came at a special meeting Wednesday night. However, out-of-county students wishing to enroll in the Brighton Area Schools will have the opportunity to enroll in the Edmentum online program through BAS. Originally, back in February, the board had voted to allow an unlimited Schools of Choice program in the coming year, but that action was rescinded at Wednesday’s meeting, and instead only in-county students will be permitted to enroll.

The impetus behind the board’s change of heart on Schools of Choice is the fact that coronavirus positivity rates in surrounding counties are much higher than in Livingston County, and there was concern that allowing in students from these areas could bring the virus into the Brighton Area Schools.

However, it was stressed that the board didn’t want to close the door entirely on Schools of Choice, since 5% of the district’s revenue comes from the program. In it, students from other school districts may enroll in a neighboring school district if it has a Schools of Choice program. Accepting the in-county students will enable the Brighton Area Schools to receive 100% of the state per-pupil aid that would otherwise go to the student’s home district.

The board also interviewed the final two superintendent candidates out of six semi-finalists at the meeting Wednesday, and both of them are — in a sense — local. Sharon Irvine is the current Brighton Assistant Superintendent for Labor Relations and Personnel and Matthew Outlaw is superintendent of the Brandon School District in Oakland County. Each was asked 22 questions about their background, philosophy of educating students and future challenges they feel Brighton faces, among other questions. Outlaw said he is a lifelong resident of Brighton, graduated from Brighton High School, and that his two children attend the Brighton Area Schools. He said he commutes the 35-mile distance from Brighton to Ortonville, where the Brandon Schools are located. His wife is a teacher in the Pinckney Community Schools. Recently, Outlaw was one of two finalists for the superintendent’s position in the South Lyon School District. Outlaw has served as Brandon School District superintendent for the past six years. Before that, he served in the Grosse Pointe Public Schools as a high school assistant principal, athletic director and principal. He told the board he sees two “critical, long-term challenges” ahead for the Brighton Area Schools: attracting more students and avoiding complacency as a district which is at, or near, the top academically and in other areas.

Irvine came to Brighton in 2019 from the Warren Consolidated Schools, where she was assistant superintendent and chief human resources officer. Prior to that she was executive director of human resources in the Ypsilanti Public Schools and a school principal in Northville. In reference to her position as chief union negotiator in Brighton, Irvine was asked what current Brighton Education Association President Barry Goode would say about her. Irvine replied that he would say, her words “that I am somebody who cares about teachers and am trustworthy and honest.” The other candidates are Novi Community Schools Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Gary Kinzer; Swartz Creek Schools Superintendent Benjamin Mainka; Marlette Schools Superintendent Sarah Barratt; and Jennifer Hammond, executive director of academic services in the Muskegon Public Schools.

The board will meet in special session again on Friday to select the finalists for the superintendent’s position, which was left vacant when former superintendent Greg Gray retired at the end of the school year on June 30th after 11 years at the helm.