School numbers may show stability

District planners pleased with increase in student population, concerned with continued funding issues

OSCEOLA COUNTY — With Michigan’s public education funding still in a general state of flux, school district officials more anxiously await the result of each and every student population count.

While once-upon-a-time district administrators would review student numbers on a monthly schedule, officials concerned with school budgeting now watch their student count figures daily.

Each student at a desk brings a few more dollars to the budgeting table.

The annual Fall Count has been completed and planners in both Reed City and Evart are both pleased and yet still concerned.

Evart

Evart Public Schools district superintendent Howard Hyde watched the autumn student count numbers very, very carefully.

Give or take one or two students, the EPS student population count stands at 983.

Hyde reports that those numbers are “give or take one or two ...” because the actual student population can change weekly — sometimes daily.

“I’ve never seen attendance changes like those we often see now,” said Hyde. “We sometimes have students starting off, or leaving our school district mid-week. They show up with no warning, or leave the system with no notice.

“It’s strange.

“I understand, though, that people go where the jobs or family security is. There seems to be a lot more moving around.

“It’s all tied to the economy.”

Nevertheless, the “official” number is 983.

The district budgeted for 980 so in a sense they are three students up. But in fact, the count indicates a drop from the annual kids count last fall.

At the fall count in 2010 there were 1,034 students in the Evart district. By winter that number had dropped to 1,009.

Still, with an increase in the student count at the kindergarten level, one teacher who had been laid off has been rehired — Jason O’Dell.

The real problem continues to be the population pattern trend — a continuing downward dip.

“Because of the trend, we will probably budget next year for an additional loss of 30 students,” reported Hyde.

“I hope I’m wrong. We are constantly taking risks in our budgeting process, no matter how conservative we try to be.

“At the end of this year, we will need to review our situation very carefully and figure out if we have too many teachers, or too few.

“My guess is the trend will continue and we will be looking at changes in our staffing once again.”

Hyde did note that while there may be changes in the district staff roster, planners hope they will not be compromising on class size.

“We can make changes, but we can’t do anything that will affect the quality of education we offer our students,” he pointed out.

Hyde noted that with the loss of “one shot” funding sources, and as retirement rates continue to go up, it is becoming ever more difficult to anticipate what budgeting numbers will look like heading into a new fiscal year.

“We are doing everything we can to qualify for every bit of funding we can tap into,” said Hyde.

“Generally speaking, our number count and budgeting situation is a ‘good news/bad news’ thing. I was glad we didn’t lose more students than we did. I was glad our kindergarten numbers were high. I was glad our budget came in as it did — with three more students than we planned for.

“But at the same time, our population numbers continue to drop.

“That’s all there is to it.”

Reed City

In Reed City, the public school district saw a slight increase in the number of students — 1,547 compared to the 2011 fall count of 1,510.

That’s good news.

Another piece of good news is that the district budgeted for 1,500.

“Our increase is completely atypical,” reported RCAPS superintendent Steven Westhoff. “We aren’t used to our numbers actually going up.

“The only thing we can figure is that there may be a little more stability when it comes to jobs in this area.

“If there has been an increase in employment in our area, it often is reflected in an increase in student population. We hope this is the case here.”

Westhoff noted that a dedication to keeping class sizes stable and reasonable may have been a factor in some parents bringing students to the Reed City district from other schools or districts.

“We hope the resources and class size that are the norm in our district are attractive to parents,” he pointed out. “We don’t have proof this is a cause for an increase in student numbers, but we think it may be a contributing factor.”

As a result of the bump in student population numbers, and with the increased revenue, district officials brought back two teachers as well as one para-pro classroom assistant, and one para-pro serving in the library.

“Things are looking a little bit better — right now,” said Westhoff.

“If this trend would continue, it would be great. I don’t think, however, there are guarantees that this uptick on the numbers chart is a sign of things to come. Actually, I think that this is more the exception than it will be the rule.

“On top of that, the whole question of public education funding is still so much up in the air that it is simply difficult to get too excited by good things that do occasionally happen.

“Despite the fact that our numbers are up, we don’t necessarily see this reflected in our total revenues.

“We are still seeing funding from the state drained away.”

Westhoff said that the increased funding brought with and increase in student population may well not offset an anticipated cut in per pupil funding — possibly up to a decrease of $500 per student in the future.

“We are going to need all the additional revenue we can get,” he pointed out.

“We certainly need every student we can get. So much of our funding is tied to student count that we can’t afford to lose even one student — and then we still will be losing money.

“The fact is, the increase in per pupil funding that we see with an increase in student numbers doesn’t even come close to closing the gap created by the general loss of funding to public education we’ve seen over the past few years.”