Prekindergarten enrollment down

BCSC decreases student capacity 40 percent due to shortage of funding

Prekindergarten enrollment is nearing capacity this fall in the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp., with 232 students enrolled against a 240-student capacity.

However, that’s far from the number of students that participated in last year’s program, said Gina Pleak, the district’s director of title services.

Nearly 400 students were served during the 2016-2017 school year, Pleak said.

That reflects a drop of about 40 percent.

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The Columbus-based public school district was not able to secure as much funding for prekindergarten this year, resulting in a lower enrollment capacity for this fall, she said.

The Indiana state legislature doesn’t provide money for prekindergarten in its K-12 funding formula, said Teresa Heiny, the district’s assistant superintendent of human resources.

Prekindergarten, first offered in 2010, is available at seven BCSC buildings — Busy Bees Academy at the R.L. Johnson Early Education Center, as well as Southside, Parkside, Rockcreek, Clifty Creek, Taylorsville and CSA-Fodrea elementary schools.

Come January, however, BCSC officials are hopeful that 40 more prekindergarten spots will open up with Bartholomew County now among 20 Indiana counties selected to receive funding to help qualifying families afford pre-kindergarten through the On My Way Pre-K program.

The 2017 Early Learning Advisory Council annual report estimates 6,700 four-year-olds throughout Indiana would be eligible for the pilot program, state officials said.

While both private and public prekindergarten programs in Bartholomew County may qualify, families cannot have income that exceeds 127 percent of the federal poverty guideline, according to the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration.

BCSC attempted twice to get taxpayer support through public referendums to provide 450 low-income 4-year-olds with a tuition-free prekindergarten education.

Taxpayers were asked to pay $1.8 million annually for seven years through a property tax increase of 5 cents per $100 assessed value, but the question lost 54 percent to 46 percent in both November 2012 and 2014 referendums.

BCSC total enrollment

Overall student enrollment across the district is trending to be up 36 from last September, when BCSC reported 11,251 students.

That reflects an 0.3 percent increase, a third straight year of stable enrollment, Heiny told the BCSC school board during Monday night’s meeting.

That figure may change between now and the official Sept. 15 count date as more details are received from St. Bartholomew Catholic and St. Peter’s Lutheran schools.

BCSC provides Spanish instructors to the two private schools, which has a small effect on BCSC enrollment counts, Heiny said.

The biggest surprise to administrators is that enrollment at Clifty Creek Elementary School has increased 36 students from a year ago, she said.

Heiny reported that the three largest classes among the 13 grades are:

11th grade _ 932

9th grade _ 912

Kindergarten _ 889

“We anticipated this would be a large kindergarten class just by early enrollment last spring,” Heiny said.

Flat Rock _ Hawcreek

Officials with the Flat Rock-Hawcreek School Corp. are projecting a 2.7 percent increase in enrollment when the official enrollment count is made next month.

A total of 883 students, an increase from 860 last year, is being projected for the first semester, FHSC superintendent Shawn Price said.

Enrollment last fall increased by 19, and about 25 additional students are expected this fall during the Sept. 15 count, Price said.

If those numbers hold up, it means the Hope area schools will be back on track for sustainable growth after two years of declining enrollment.

Enrollment dropped almost 5 percent from the fall of 2013 to the same time the following year, which resulted in significant cuts in state funding.

At the end of the 2014-15 school year, two veteran professional staff members were laid off because of financial constraints.

But in February 2016, a slight increase in second-semester enrollment suggested the enrollment drop had plateaued, Price said.

Due to a large kindergarten class last year, a third class was added to accommodate first graders this fall, the superintendent said.

Increases also were seen in the sixth and seventh grades, as well as in the number of transfer students, Price said.

The district credits its strong test scores, graduation rates and other indications of academic excellence in growing enrollment, Price said.

Another significant factor was a $179,200 investment that ensured all secondary school students receive a computer tablet as part of textbook distribution, beginning in the fall of 2015.

Last fall, the Flat Rock-Hawcreek Schools implemented a new learning management system designed to give parents greater visibility into their child’s learning experience, as well as provide a prompt analysis of each child’s progress to allow quick responses.

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.