Pine River, RCAPS see large student decline

OSCEOLA COUNTY — A trend of declining student enrollment continues for some local school districts in the 2013-14 academic year as they reported their preliminary Count Day numbers this week.

Oct. 3 was fall Count Day, the day the state has designated as a time to record student enrollment as a basis for how much state aid K-12 school districts will get this year. Public schools will receive $7,029 per student in state aid for the current school year. Fewer students in school on that day equates to less money for the district this school year.

Pine River Area Schools saw the sharpest decrease in numbers. With 1,067 students, the district lost 61 students from last fall's count of 1,128, which is roughly 15 fewer students than the district had planned in the 2013-14 budget. This follows a 40-student decrease from the 2011-12 school year to 2013-13 school year.

PRAS Superintendent Jim Ganger said he attributes most of the large decline to the closure of Tustin and Luther elementary schools. Many parents chose to place their students in closer districts, though Pine River may see those students return next year, Ganger said. Additional reasons could include the lack of employment opportunities in the area and rising gas prices, he added.

Reed City Area Public Schools also saw a significant decline in student enrollment this fall, coming in 49 fewer students than the district had last fall and 25 fewer students than planned on in the 2013-14 budget. From fall 2011 to 2012, the district saw an increase in students.

“Ninety percent of our funding was from this fall, so even if we gain some students it only counts for 10 percent (of the enrollment total),” said RCAPS Superintendent Tim Webster. “But we are hoping to gain students.”

While elementary and middle school enrollment was slightly higher than expected, Webster said high school enrollment dropped by 30 students. Some of the loss can be attributed to families moving out of the area and some students chose to enroll in online virtual academies, Webster added.

Facing potentially $175,725 less in state aid this year than anticipated, RCAPS will need to look at budget trimming options such as cutting down on teacher overloads and athletic transportation, Webster said.

Evart Public Schools’ student enrollment remained basically the same as last year’s, at 940 students. Superintendent Howard Hyde had budgeted for only 920 students in the 2013-14 school year, predicting that the closure of Dean Foods dairy earlier this year in Evart would cause some families to move out of the area. Hyde was pleasantly surprised to see enrollment holding stable, which would mean an additional $140,580 in state aid beyond what was budgeted.

“We’re very happy with our numbers and that it’s more than what we budgeted for,” Hyde said.