The third Friday in September student count shows that every school district covered by the County Post West continues to see declining enrollments.
Since state aid and revenue caps are tied to the number of students in a district, declining enrollments mean financial challenges.
Dr. Dave Poeschl, the Waupaca school district administrator, points to the relatively small number of kindergarten students as an indicator of long-term enrolment decline.
In May 2009, Waupaca High School graduated approximately 220 seniors. However, there are only 143 kindergarten students enrolled in Waupaca in September 2010.
In fact, the 2010 senior and freshman classes are the only ones with more than 200 students.
In kindergarten through fifth grade, the average size per class is 162 students. In sixth through eighth grade, the average size per class is 174 students. In ninth through 12th grades, the average size per class is 198 students.
The total membership count, including Title I preschool and special education, was 2,289 in 2010 and 2,324 in 2009.
“It is no surprise the overall enrollment numbers continue to decline,” Poeschl said.
Poeschl also noted that almost every class, as the students moved from one grade to the next this year, showed a small increase.
“The district experienced a gain of 47 students when looking at K-12 migratory change only. This helps offset the loss of 76 students planned for this year due to the graduating seniors minus kindergarten enrollment difference,” Poeschl said. “Therefore, the net change in K-12 enrollment for the School District of Waupaca is a loss of 29 students.”
Poeschl said the loss of students means cuts in state aid and a lower revenue cap for the district.
“The district is more concerned about state aid dollars than revenue cap capacity at this time because the loss of state aid will need to be replaced by local property tax dollars to a certain degree,” Poeschl said. “The district has not taxed to the revenue cap limit recently and does not plan on doing so this year either as that would place an even greater burden on the local taxpayers.”
Poeschl said the district has been planning for declining enrollments for several years through a series of cost-cutting measures, including the reduction of personnel costs through attrition and layoff. That practice will continue until the enrollment numbers stabilize.
The September student count shows that the number of students has dropped slightly in the Weyauwega-Fremont School District, Waupaca School District and Iola-Scandinavia School District.
The Sept. 17 count in the W-F School District totaled 926 students, while the count in September 2009 was 949 students.
This year’s count includes students in 4-year-old kindergarten through 12th grade.
District Administrator Scott Bleck said the student count is a preliminary figure because the district will also have to reconcile the number of students who open-enrolled into the W-F district versus those who open-enrolled out of the district. The final figure will also include the total number of students who attended summer school.
The W-F district’s total number of students enrolled is due to the state by Oct. 4, Bleck said.
Friday’s number breaks down to 393 in Fremont Elementary and Weyauwega Elementary schools, 187 students in middle school and 345 students in high school.
These numbers compare to 409 students in elementary school a year ago and 195 in middle school. The number of students at the high school is the same as a year ago.
The latest numbers show that the trend of smaller enrollments continues.
Bleck said this is not unique to the Weyauwega-Fremont School District or to any school districts in the county.
Trends show statewide, he said, that enrollment is increasing in school districts in the Milwaukee suburbs and in outlying school districts in the Fox Valley.
“The numbers are expected,” Bleck said. “We expected and anticipated a slight reduction due to the trend of class enrollment. We’re hopeful and anticipate that the numbers will stabilize.”
At the high school level, class sizes have averaged in the 80s. He said that this year’s senior class has about 102 students in it but that after that class graduates, the class that will become freshmen next school year is back within the typical class size for the district.
Among the reasons why area districts believe enrollment is down is because the size of families is smaller than it was in years past, he said.
The preliminary count for the third Friday in September gives the Iola-Scandinavia School District a full-time equivalent of 735 students, down from an FTE of 764 last year, according to I-S District Administrator Joe Price.
“Our three-year average FTE, which determines our membership for the revenue cap, is 755, down from 781 last year,” Price said. “This will result in a loss of almost $245,000 in allowable revenue.”