Enrollment decline puzzles district

For the past four years, Seymour Community School Corp. has experienced the benefits of growing enrollment.

But this year, that likely won’t be the case, and school officials have no idea why.

“All of our projections are way off base,” said Steve Nauman, corporation business manager. He broke the news to school board trustees during a meeting Tuesday night.

Nauman said as of Tuesday, the enrollment report for Seymour Community Schools showed 4,668 students in kindergarten through 12th grade this school year. That’s exactly how many students were enrolled in the fall of 2016.

“We lost seven kids this week,” Nauman said. “If we lose one more student this week, we will be in declining enrollment, and we’ve lost kids the last two weeks, so I’m not real hopeful that we’re going to grow a lot in the next two days. But if you know anybody who needs a school, we’ll take them by the bus.”

Officials projected an enrollment of 4,750 students for this fall, an increase of 35 kids over last spring’s enrollment of 4,623. Current numbers are 82 students short of hitting the project enrollment.

“I thought that was a very conservative enrollment, but obviously, not conservative enough,” Nauman said of projections. “That just hasn’t been the trend here that we have enrollment going down like that. What we normally do is bump everybody up to the next grade, and the trend at this school corporation is that has always worked.

“It didn’t work this year,” he said. “Our elementary enrollment dropped significantly.”

Enrollment reports show a drop of 61 students at the elementary level from the end of the school year in May. That’s the exact opposite of what Nauman said he has seen in his four years on the job.

“It’s been really unusual because we’ve had some grade levels that have lost 20 kids,” he said. “There’s just no rhyme or reason to it. It makes no sense at all. I’m still in shock. Some students we don’t know where they went. Parents don’t ask for kids’ records, and if they go out of state, we have no way of tracking them.”

The good news, he said, is kindergarten enrollment is on track, and Seymour High School’s numbers are up.

Projections put the high school enrollment at 1,458 this year, but as of Sept. 1, that number stood at 1,482, an increase of 24 students.

At the middle school, projections showed 1,012 students. Enrollment as of Sept. 1 was 1,011, just one student short of projections.

“If it was change in just people’s locations, our kindergarten numbers should be way down, our high school enrollment should be down,” he said.

Although he’s not alarmed yet by the numbers, Nauman is concerned about the impact the lack of growth will have on funding and the district’s budget.

Today is the Indiana Department of Education’s average daily membership count for all public schools to determine enrollment, which the state uses to figure how much each corporation receives in state financial support.

“It’s about $6,000 a kid,” Nauman said of state funding.

Since 2014, the state has conducted two ADM counts, one in September and one in February, but this school year, there will be just the fall count, Nauman said.

Typically, that would be better for Seymour because the spring count goes down due to midterm graduates, he said.

The lack of growth will be a “significant” impact on the 2018 budget, he said. Funding for the first half of the school year was determined by enrollment projections made in July. The second half of the year will be funded by today’s ADM count.

“We projected to have money coming in from July to December that is not going to materialize,” Nauman said. “Then the money that comes the second half of the year is going to be short. It’s over half a million dollars. It’s pretty drastic.”

The corporation will be forced to use its general fund operating balance to make up the shortfall in revenue, Nauman said.

“I don’t want to say it’s devastating, but that’s why you have an operating balance for years like this,” he said. “There’s just no way you could have projected that. We will have to be even more conservative until we can build that operating balance back up.”

The higher a corporation’s enrollment is, the easier it is to be off by between 50 to 70 students a year when making projections, Nauman said.

He said the district will “ride out the storm” and hopefully increase its elementary enrollment next fall.

“It’s a concern, but we can’t let that cloud our educational plan for our students and trying to keep our class sizes under control,” he said. “We just have to react over the next 12 months. We’ll be taking a really hard look at everything we do to try to reduce costs. We hope it’s just a one-year fluke.”

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*As of Tuesday