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"Student enrollment is a critically important part of our budget development process. Enrollment directly affects over 80% of our annual revenues."
More detailed information about enrollment projections is included in our budget documents; which can be found here.
We were asked to present this at the Minnesota Association of School Business Official's Fall Conference in November of 2005 and also to the Business Office Conference sponsored by the SWWC Service Coop in March of 2006.
The District has developed a detailed and comprehensive process to support our enrollment projections. This enrollment projection process uses a number of “best practices” recommended by school finance experts. We use several enrollment projection software models along with various calculations and counts. In addition, the district conducted a professional demographic study of enrollment related factors 2003 and again in 2006. All of the above data sources, along with other community information available, are factored into our enrollment projections.
We have found from our own experience, and also from experts, that past history is the best indicator for enrollment projections. Recent past history generally always receives a higher weighting. In this way, recent impacts from local economic development and population/demographic swings are factored into our projection. Obvious large enrollment impacting events (such as knowing that a large company will be moving to the district next year or a charter school in the area opening in two years) would be factored into the projection manually. Approximately over 80% of Minnesota School Districts are facing declining enrollment challenges.
Until FY 2006, our District’s enrollment has been declining since school year 1992-1993. The main reasons for the declining enrollment are demographic:
- Decrease in youth population
- Decrease in households with children
- Low birth rate
- Lower percentage of women in childbearing years
Other smaller but important issues contributing to our declining enrollment include a high student mobility rate, the rural to urban shift, open enrollment, dropouts, and competition with other educational options.
Fewer Students, Fewer Dollars
Many residents will ask, "If enrollment is going down, then spending should go down. Where's the financial challenge?" To put it simply, the loss of total per pupil revenue we experience with declining enrollment is almost three times greater than the expenses we can reduce. Here's an example:
Let's say the District lost 25 students all in the same grade and in the same school. We'd lose about $150,000 in revenue that accompanies those children. So we could cut that class' teacher. But since no teacher here makes $150,000, we'd have about $100,000 of reductions to make because of the lost revenue. We would also save a few thousand in annual expenses for transportation and books/supplies.
Imagine the opposite effect the funding formula has on district's whose enrollments are growing. Using the same example, a district gaining 25 students receives $150,000 but only requires about a third of that revenue to hire a teacher for those students.
As enrollment declines, so does the total amount of per-pupil revenue that Willmar receives. This is the the money it takes to provide a comprehensive program for all of the students that we serve. In the meantime, fixes expenses continue to rise inflation, while overall state funding has been flat or less than inflation for the last three years.