Student count shows ups, downs

ESCANABA — School districts across the area provided an official full-time equivalent (FTE) student count to the state at the beginning of October. The FTE is a count of enrolled students who currently receive educational instruction from teachers at the school. Knowing the state budget and a school district’s student count shows superintendents how close the submitted budget to the state was last June.

Two school districts, Carney-Nadeau and Mid Peninsula, recorded higher numbers than projected. Mid Peninsula Superintendent Eric VanDamme budgeted for 190 students and reported 198. Carney-Nadeau Superintendent Adam Cocco reported 251 students, not counting pre-schoolers.

“We are up five kids relative to last year’s count,” said Cocco. “At a bare minimum, we want to see our numbers hold steady from where they were in the spring … We’re certainly pleased with the increase.”

It can be hard for a superintendent to predict the student count from year to year. Families move in and out of areas at will, and superintendents just hope to stay even in student numbers from the time they submit the school district’s budget to the official student count day.

Big Bay de Noc and Gladstone school districts ended up reporting the same FTE — 170 and 1,538, respectively.

“We ended up enrolling quite a few kids this fall, which really helped offset a larger than average graduating class,” said Big Bay de Noc Superintendent Diana Thill.

Jay Kulbertis, superintendent to both Gladstone and Rapid River schools, prepared for a decrease of 15 students in the 2019-2020 school year, but received an uptick in non-resident enrollment through the Schools of Choice program and an increase in enrollment in Gladstone’s virtual school, Kulbertis said.

Rapid River is one of five school districts recording lower student count numbers than the previous school year, 301.

“Since we have been in declining enrollment, due to low birth rate, for several years, we utilize a three-year blended count to mitigate against large single-year decreases,” said Kulbertis. “Still, with the blend, we are 14 students down from last year.”

Kulbertis said they were aware of the significant decrease early due to the large number of graduating seniors last spring. Some superintendents who planned a decrease in numbers were pleasantly surprised to find the decrease was not as low as projected. Superior Central Superintendent Bill Valima anticipated the FTE at 327, and on Oct. 2 it was 330 — four students less than the previous school year, but three more than planned.

Escanaba Superintendent Coby Fletcher budgeted for 50 students less than the previous school year at 2,272. Instead, the FTE was only 15 students less. Fletcher attributes that to the options available in the district, and strong programs that provide a top-notch, well-rounded education.

“The Webster Kindergarten Center was expected to serve a population of about 195 kids, and we’re at 233 in year two of operation,” said Fletcher. “At the other end of the school spectrum, we have excellent Advanced Placement, dual enrollment, and Early Middle College opportunities that are drawing a number of students.”

Other superintendents expected more students in the 2019-2020 school year than recorded and found the FTE number lower. Bark River-Harris Superintendent Jason Lockwood recorded a FTE count of 718, lower than anticipated.

“We were planning for 725. That is also lower than last year at this time,” said Lockwood. “Our enrollment has been very fluid over the last year with unexpected increases and most recently this decrease. We have experienced growth over the past eight or nine years, so this drop was not expected. We are looking into possible variables that could be attributing to the decrease.”

Manistique Superintendent Howard Parmentier planned for a higher number of kindergartners enrolling to off-set the graduating class of 58 last spring.

“Our current student count is 815. We are down about 20 students from last year,” said Parmentier. “Fifteen of those are kindergarten enrollment … we were expecting higher numbers for our incoming kindergarten class.”

Lower student count surprised Holy Name Principal Joseph Carlson, who supervises K-8 grades in the Catholic school in Escanaba. In the spring of last year the student count was at 331, currently it is at 329, down two students. During the 2017-2018 school year they were at 304.

“We were hoping that we would be around 340 students this year,” said Carlson.

All-in-all, student enrollment has continued to decrease over years in the U.P. and school districts have had to overcome by consolidating with other districts or close a facility and move students. Escanaba had many elementary schools operating years ago that are no longer running, Cornell, Ford River, Franklin, Jefferson, Pine Ridge, Washington, and Wells. If closing a facility wasn’t an option consolidation was. For example, Perkins and Rock schools consolidated to make Mid Peninsula.

Athletics and other activities have changed due to rosters not being filled and attendance in activities.

According to a report by the State Demographer, “Michigan Population Projections by County Through 2045”, the decline of population was caused by large numbers of young people leaving the state in search of jobs, a drop in births, and a rise in the number of deaths. By 2030 all baby boomers in Michigan will be over age 65. Through 2045 the report summarizes in the short-term, Michigan’s population is projected to increase as baby boomer retirements attract out-of-state workers to fill open job positions. After 2029 Michigan’s net migration will decline because the baby boomers’ job positions will be filled and the state’s population is projected to fall as the baby boomer generation contracts. It is projected deaths will continue to rise in number, while births continue to decline to 2045.

“I think the loss in students is more reflective of a demographic change than Schools of Choice. The Upper Peninsula in general, and Delta County specifically, are each losing population, especially among young families with school age kids,” said Fletcher. “What this means for Schools of Choice is simply that local districts are competing for a shrinking group of students. I believe this demographic trend is likely to continue.”


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