While another year of growth means continued financial stability for Columbus schools, their counterparts in Hope continue to struggle with the effects of falling enrollment.
Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp.’s fall 2015 student count is 11,250 in kindergarten through 12th grade, up from 11,198 students the prior fall. That’s a 0.5 percent increase.
BCSC has been on a slow trend upward since 2010, which is largely due to the constant influx of families, especially those with young children, moving into Columbus for job opportunities, superintendent John Quick said.
“We have a good standard of living and good schools, and people are looking for all of those things,” Quick said.
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Flat Rock-Hawcreek School Corp., however, enrolled 840 students in the fall, down from 870 students the prior year, a 3.5 percent decrease.
Unlike BCSC, the Hope district’s student count has been continually decreasing since 2010.
The two public school systems based in Bartholomew County are on trend lines heading in two different directions.
Although there is no single cause for the consistent drop in students in northeastern Bartholomew County, superintendent Shawn Price said families are choosing to leave Hope, where Flat Rock-Hawcreek is based, driving the student count down.
But Flat Rock-Hawcreek has been able to rule out some factors for its decline in students, including the state’s open enrollment policy, which allows families to choose which schools their children attend.
“It’s really stayed pretty level as far as the number of kids living in the district requesting to go to other school districts, so we don’t think that’s it,” he said.
Fewer students means fewer state dollars, for whatever the contributing reasons are.
Twice a year, once in September and once in February, districts report their student counts to the Indiana Department of Education.
Average daily membership, or ADM, is the average number of students enrolled in a school district each semester. It’s the number the state uses to determine how much funding a school district should receive.
Beginning this year, a district’s total student count and its ADM are the same number. Previously, kindergartners were counted as half students in the state count, which meant ADM was slightly lower than actual enrollment.
On the rise
The steady influx of students into BCSC schools means consistent financial support from the state Department of Education. This year, the district included an additional $1.3 million in its 2016 general fund budget, an increase largely driven by a projected enrollment increase of 30 students.But because the district actually saw an increase of 52 students, an additional $60,000 also is expected to come in.Those funds will approximately equate to $2,800 per student for the semester, Quick said.
That money goes directly into the district’s general fund, which covers basic personnel and operating costs, Quick said.
“(State funding) helps in terms of the ability to meet any cost-of-living increases, inflation or any raises that we might be able to give our staff,” he said.
Also included in the 2016 budget was a provision for a 2 percent raise for all BCSC employees for the current school year and 1.5 percent raise for the next year.
Increased enrollment creates a stronger general fund, which enables BCSC to offer such salary increases, making the district more attractive to quality teachers, Quick said.
Similarly, increased enrollment often creates a need for more teachers.
Soon into the new school year, BCSC hired three more teachers and shifted classrooms for some students after having 120 new elementary school students enroll for the fall semester.
When additional teachers are needed, their salaries often come from the funding BCSC receives through its state enrollment count, Quick said.
More teachers means smaller class sizes, which increases one-on-one interaction between students and teachers and can lead to improved academic performance.
Conversely, Flat Rock-Hawcreek Schools lost funding this fall through the state complexity grant, which is given to districts with high populations of students living in poverty.The Hope-based district is receiving $4,135,000 in tuition support and $5,127,000 in total support from the state this year, Price said. That’s down from $5.3 million the prior year.Like BCSC, Flat Rock-Hawcreek puts its state funding directly into its general fund for personnel costs.
Although it is too early in the school year to determine if the reduction in state funding will warrant any staffing changes, Price said the district’s enrollment count often goes hand-in-hand with its ability to hire or retain employees.
In the past, the district has had to cut staff positions because of the school corporation’s financial hardships.
However, a few students have already transferred into Flat Rock-Hawcreek Schools since it submitted its enrollment in September, Price said. That could mean a higher enrollment count in February, when school districts are required to re-submit their student numbers to determine funding for the next semester.
While he admits that falling enrollment numbers are concerning, Price also said leaders of the school district are constantly assessing those numbers to develop a strategic plan that accounts for any changes in financial support, good or bad.
That planning, coupled with some teachers choosing to retire or transfer to other districts, enabled Hope Elementary to hire teachers this fall, Price said.
Additionally, district leaders are actively assessing ways to make Hauser Junior-Senior High School and Hope Elementary more appealing to families, Price said.
“That’s something that has been talked about at both of our schools,” he said.
The funds that Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. and Flat Rock-Hawcreek School Corp. received based on their September Average Daily Membership (enrollment formula) counts will be applied to the current semester, from July 1 through Dec. 31.
The second 2015-2016 count in February will fund the upcoming semester.