School districts in east half of Washtenaw County see drops in student enrollment
Pounded by the double-whammy of the bad economy and increased competition from magnet and charter schools, school districts in the eastern half of Washtenaw County saw declines in student enrollment this fall.
Ypsilanti, Willow Run Community and Lincoln Consolidated school districts all lost more students than expected when the official state count was taken Oct. 5.
Lincoln Schools suffered the biggest loss with a fall enrollment that was 293 students short of projections, said Superintendent Ellen Bonter. The loss was across all grade levels, Bonter said, and will cost the district $1.8 million in expected revenue from the state.
The fall count is used by the state to determine funding levels for each district. The Oct. 5 fall count day will be worth 90 percent of state aid, while a winter count in February will be worth 10 percent. All of the enrollment numbers are preliminary and won’t be certified until Nov. 9.
For now, it appears Lincoln Schools enrollment is 6 percent below projection, and 8 percent short of last fall's enrollment. Lincoln counted 4,343 this fall, compared with 4,738 a year ago, a 395-student decline. They had projected 4,636 students for this fall.
“We’re looking at our budget and how to adjust at this point in the year,” Bonter said. “We are fortunate that we are still have enough room in the budget to keep the cuts away from the classroom. It won’t impact the classroom this year,”
Ultimately, she said, it will be a board decision.
Much of the decline resulted from families moving out of state, Bonter said.
“At the middle school especially, there’s been a great movement out of state, with students moving to Missouri, Texas, Arkansas and California. This tells me parents are seeking jobs.”
Another 20 middle school students left for publically funded East Arbor Charter Academy, Bonter said.
The Ypsilanti School District had predicted a 1/2 percent enrollment loss for this fall, but the numbers came in closer to 2.6 percent, creating a $510,000 loss in anticipated state funds. Instead of losing 22 students, the district lost 95 students this fall. General education enrollment this fall stands at 3,547 students compared with 3,642 last fall. The district had projected enrollment at 3,620, said Emma Jackson, district spokeswoman.
Almost all of the enrollment decline came at the secondary level, Jackson said, with Ypsilanti High School hit hardest. At least part of the explanation, Jackson said, lies with the growing number of high school alternatives in the area. Other options in front of parents include Washtenaw International High School, the Early College Alliance at Eastern Michigan University, Washtenaw Technical Middle College, W-A-Y Washtenaw and charter schools.
The economy also continues to take its toll on enrollment, Jackson said, with families moving out of the state to look for work.
And there’s the issue of a re-designed high school that debuted this fall. Ypsilanti Schools overhauled the high school this year, eliminating the traditional model in favor or two, smaller academies within the school. Some families, Jackson said, may have been scared away by the change.
“We knew we’d lose some students because of that,” she said.
The district will need to adjust its budget to reflect the $510,000 loss in anticipated revenue, she said, but no decisions have been made at this point.
Willow Run’s enrollment is down 1 percent from a year ago, counting 1,640 students this fall, compared with 1,657 a year ago. The district had projected enrollment to remain unchanged, said Bert Emerson, interim finance director.
The loss will cost Willow Run more than $120,000 in expected revenue, but will partially be made up for with relatively small one-time incentives in state aid the district now expects. Still, it impacts the budget, Emerson said.
“Even though enrollment is down only a little bit, everything is already so tight, this is going to be another challenge.”