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Student count down, but higher than expected

October 28, 2011
By Jason Raiche and Ashley Hoholik , Daily Press

ESCANABA - Local school districts are reporting declining enrollment in their fall 2011 student count, according to officials from Escanaba, Gladstone and Manistique school districts.

At Escanaba, October's unofficial, unaudited student count is 2,593 students, a decline of 18 students from a year ago.

"We had projected 2,558 students, so we are actually 35 students above our projections," said Sue Furney, director of business services at Escanaba Area Public Schools.

Article Photos

Jason Raiche | Daily Press
Escanaba Middle School Teacher Kim LaMarche, front, stands before her sixth-grade class recently. Officials from Escanaba, Gladstone and Manistique have all reported declining enrollments for the start of the 2011 school year.

Of these 35 students, Furney added that 14 are attending the American Academy, a dropout prevention program that the district hopes will also improve their graduation rate.

According to Superintendent Michele Lemire, the program hires a student advocate on the district's

behalf to make weekly contact with students, who take online courses available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Lemire said the program is of no cost to the district and is "another strategy available for at-risk students to graduate."

Furney said this year's loss of 18 students can be attributed "to lower birth rate and tough economic conditions in the area as well as Michigan as a whole."

"We will see some increase in revenue above projections, which will help to offset the budget shortfall due to state foundation allowance and grant decreases," said Furney. "We continue to bring in school-of-choice students and create an attractive and engaging environment where students will continue to enroll in Escanaba Schools and stay here."

Lemire added the district is pleased the count is higher than what was projected, noting they will continue monitoring enrollment trends.

"Escanaba provides many opportunities, as well as excellent and innovative programs for its students, and so a positive enrollment trend helps us to maintain these services," she said.

According to Superintendent Jay Kulbertis, enrollment in Gladstone Area Schools also did not drop as much as expected.

As with most districts, Kulbertis noted Gladstone will continue to use student count predictions when creating their budgets, since school budgets are adopted in June and enrollment numbers aren't known until October.

"We have been very successful in recent years in projecting our enrollment, by considering the interaction of a number of intervening variables," he explained. "It is no longer possible to look just at historical birthrates, cohort survival rates and class size. Now, the economy has had such an impact, that issues like seasonal employment, low-income housing and public transportation are playing important roles in the equation.

"Another increasingly important factor in the overall picture is the impact of school-of-choice decisions," he added.

When making their enrollment projection for the 2011 school year, administrators estimated a decrease of approximately 40 students, from 1,579, explained Kulbertis.

"However, digging deeper into the data, and paying attention to the underlying trends, we adjusted that expectation, and built our budget on a projection of being down only 25 students, to 1,554," he said. "Although this was taking a bit of a risk, we felt strongly that this was a more accurate projection, so we made staffing decisions and budgeted accordingly."

Using what Kulbertis calls a "mixture of art and science" to make their student count prediction work in the district's favor.

"As it turns out, our schools-of-choice enrollments were even greater than our adjusted figures," explained Kulbertis. "With more out-of-district Delta County students choosing to come to Gladstone this year, we are at 1,561, only down 18 students from last year."

Despite the decrease, Kulbertis points out that an important trend is apparent in the numbers.

"This five-year trend of increasing schools-of-choice students is a clear indication of the community support for our programs and the quality of the educational opportunities that we provide to our students," he said.

In the Manistique Area Schools district, the unaudited student count is 846, said Superintendent Kathy McDonough. This does not include the district's "shared agreement" for art, music, and Spanish with the St. Francis de Sales school, she added, which will increase the district's total.

"For last February's official count, the shared agreement figure was 26.98 students," McDonough said.

According to a 2010 Daily Press article, the unaudited student count number for MAS in the fall of 2010 was 940.



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