Districts happy with student count

By Daily Press staff

Preliminary student count numbers are in and most school districts in the area fared well. Some districts were pleasantly surprised with this year’s numbers – which came in higher than expected in a few area schools.

Student count numbers are vital to local districts: it determines the amount of per pupil funding each school receives from the State of Michigan.

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Wednesday’s student count numbers at Escanaba Area Public Schools showed an increase from what the district had anticipated.

According to Escanaba Superintendent Michele Lemire, Wednesday’s enrollment numbers showed 43.5 more students than the district had estimated for this school year, a number that takes into account the district’s part-time students; Escanaba had projected a loss of 48 students total.

Wednesday’s preliminary unaudited count for the district was 2,517.5 students, on par with the October 2012 count of 2,517 students, but more than the February 2013 count of 2,497. Wednesday’s number is down five students from last year’s blended count of 2,522.5 students, an amount comprised of enrollment numbers from February and October 2012.

While the district is happy to start the year with better enrollment numbers than they projected, they still must closely monitor enrollment numbers over the course of the school year.

“Due to the state’s latest guidance on how to count students, particularly how we account for students who enter and exit during the school year, we must monitor our enrollment on a monthly basis,” noted Lemire.

Student count day is important to districts since it is directly linked to per-pupil funding the district receives from the state.

“The revenue we receive is based on dollars tied to each student for the state’s foundation allowance, as well as dollars per student we capture to take advantage of one-time dollars such as ‘Best Practice’ funding provided by the State of Michigan,” said Lemire. “Escanaba strives to provide as much as it can for its students. With more students, the district can strengthen and stabilize its financial position.”

Moving forward, Lemire said Escanaba must continue to highlight the top-notch programs it provides.

Escanaba will also work to continue growing partnerships with entities, such as the Great Start Readiness Programs now based in its schools and the district’s partnership with Berrien Springs Public Schools that resulted in creating the Escanaba Virtual Career Center.

“These are long-term initiatives that will yield positive growth for the school system in the years to come,” said Lemire. “We must continue to be student-centered, and to be open to tweaking programs and offerings so they can be increasingly engaging for the students and families we serve.”

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Enrollment at Bark River-Harris is at 733 students – down slightly from last year’s fall count, according to Bark River-Harris Superintendent Jason Lockwood.

“We planned for 735 students,” he said. “We recently conducted an independent enrollment projection and based upon this audit, we are anticipating to maintain a slow steady growth model over the next five years.”

Lockwood noted enrollment in the district has been on an upward trend. In seven of the last 10 years, Bark River-Harris saw an increased number of students. They now have nearly 100 students more than they did 10 years ago.

According to Lockwood, since Proposal A’s passage in the mid-90s, pupil enrollment has been the single most important factor that contributes to district revenues.

“With expenses continuing to climb each year, it is very essential to keep enrollment steadily climbing in order to keep revenues above expenditures,” he said.

Lockwood noted with the available funds, Bark River-Harris has been able to invest in several capital improvements that have saved the district money. The district is also in the process of exploring an expansion project to provide additional space to continue sustaining its growth model.

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Like Bark River-Harris, North Central Area Schools has experienced a slight decrease in students overall in its fall count numbers.

According to North Central Superintendent Don Palmer, enrollment is up three students in grades 7 through 12, but down eight in the elementary.

The district’s October 2013 count is 393 students, down slightly from 398 students during the February 2013 count. However, the district had anticipated this.

“We have a very small kindergarten population entering and we had a large senior population leaving,” said Palmer, noting this as one of the main reasons for the modest decline.

“We certainly appreciate the students that are here and the choice students who have made the decision to come here,” he added.

Palmer said the district will continue to market its reputation as the top middle/high school in the three-county area based on the state’s Top to Bottom rankings and its history of academic excellence.

He credits the district’s school board and staff for their support and their work to make sure North Central is headed in a positive direction.

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The preliminary student count numbers in Gladstone are higher this year than last year, partly due to the launch of the district’s online school, the Upper Peninsula Virtual Academy. The virtual academy allows students from outside the district to enroll as students through School of Choice without ever setting foot in the classroom.

“Whereas last year we had 1,508 students, this year’s head count is 1,511. We will work through the Pupil Accounting system to finalize the actual full-time equivalents, but it is clear that the community recognizes the value of the educational experience provided in Gladstone, and all of our dedicated and caring staff members deserve the credit,” said Superintendent Jay Kulbertis.

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Preliminary student counts for Rapid River Schools suggest that enrollment numbers are near stable in the district.

“The formula is a bit more complicated in Rapid River, as the districts benefits from the three-year averaging allowed under the School Aid Act. So, while the student head count is close to stable at about 360, we will see a dip in our funding since the blend is down a bit,” said Kulbertis, who is the superintendent for both the Rapid River and Gladstone school districts.

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Unofficially Manistique has 829 students according to the latest student count. Emerald Elementary has 324 students, the Middle and High School has 485 students, and 20 students are enrolled in alternative education.

The current count puts the district down three students from the count taken in February. The budget adopted by the district for the 2013-2014 school year was built around 830 students.

“Our district enrollment seems to be leveling off. We have graduated our largest classes, with exception of the current ninth grade,” said Superintendent Kathy McDonough, adding the ninth grade class has 97 students.

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The unofficial enrollment count at Mid Peninsula School was 235 students, a slight increase from the unofficial count at the same time last year, according to Superintendent Mary Brayak.

“We’re real pleased with that. We’re holding steady and that’s certainly as much as anyone can hope for in terms of planning for a budget,” Brayak said.