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School funding increase balanced out by changing enrollment

Taylor Owens

Staff Writer


Now that the bi-annual student count and the state budget are in, schools are adjusting their budgets – by the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The state budget, signed recently, allots a $240 per pupil increase for local schools.

When each full-time student who attends throughout the year represents $8,111 in funding, a change in 60 to 70 students has a major impact on district budgets.

Comparing the state of Michigan's overall student count for each school last year, to the fall count done Oct. 2, Thornapple Kellogg Schools gained 76 students, with a count of 3,233, and Lakewood Schools added 32 students, for a total of 1,810. Hastings Area Schools dropped 66 students, to 2,593, Delton Kellogg Schools lost 60 students, for a total of 1,186 and Maple Valley fell by 10, to 977.

The fall count numbers may change slightly as they are audited over the next month, and the funding will fluctuate somewhat as the schools' enrollment numbers change throughout the year.

As each school looks at the enrollment, along with cuts and additions to state funding, they can put together an early estimation on the impact to their budgets. Although the schools won't make their official budget amendments until toward the end of the year.

“It's certainly a mixed bag,” Hastings Assistant Superintendent of Operations Tim Berlin said.

The school's count, with a drop in 66 students, is 23 lower than it budgeted for in June, however the district also budgeted for a $180 increase, instead of the $240 it is receiving.

Not knowing what the state funding would be, schools budgeted conservatively, and the $240 per pupil increase is more than every school planned for.

When adding in increased state funding in areas like special education and at-risk funding, and cuts to CTE and dual enrollment, the end result is the changes end up cancelling each other out.

“We should end up pretty close to neutral as far as what we budgeted,” Berlin said.

A student drop of that size can be even more significant for a school like Delton, with a total enrollment of less than half of Hastings. Delton's loss of 60 students represents a revenue drop of $486,660, though the district did budget for a drop of 40 students.

Superintendent Kyle Corlett said the end result Delton is looking at an estimated loss of $40,000, alongside $28,000 in state budget cuts.

But Corlett said the school has been able to absorb such losses by paying attention to each small transaction, such as phone bills and utilities. The school has also focused on grants, which have funded an increase in staff, even with the lower student count.

Corlett echoed many school officials by pointing to a major challenge in bringing in new students – housing.

The amount of students going to other districts in school of choice has remained about the same, and though some families have moved away, Corlett said the school traditionally takes the hit in its incoming kindergarten class. The type of people who are buying houses and moving in to Delton just aren't ones who are raising a family, Corlett said.

“We're doing the best that we can to make sure the community knows that we have quality schools,” Corlett said. But he pointed out the housing market is a bigger issue outside of the district.

Maple Valley was thrown into a budget crisis at the beginning of the last school year. The district was coming out of a deficit year and had a much larger than expected drop in enrollment.

“The board really wanted to be conservative because we got burned last year,” Maple Valley Finance Director Darryl Sydloski said.

The school budgeted for another major drop this year, of 47 students, and found cause for celebration when they only marked a loss of 10.

Looking at both the state funding and enrollment, Sydloski estimated the school will have $337,000 more to work with this year than they expected.

Where the funding will go has yet to be decided, but the staff contracts which were negotiated this fall have a provision to renegotiate items such as teacher salaries once the state budget has been finalized, and the enrollment numbers are in.

Meanwhile Thornapple Kellogg is able to tout what they call “organic growth” in their numbers. Assistant Superintendent Craig McCarthy attributed the school's rise in 76 students to families moving into the district. Because the district is reaching its capacity in the number of students it can accept, the school has cut back on the number of school of choice students it is allowing.

“Our growth in the area is based on families having more children,” McCarthy said. He pointed out the district has the highest birthrate in the Kent ISD, and a signifiant number housing options. Based on that growth, McCarthy said the school may need to further cut back the number of school of choice students it accepts.

The school is asking for a bond Nov. 5, to increase the number of classrooms and expand capacity. It would allow the school to accommodate the sustained growth it is expecting, and accept more school of choice students.

Though the administration has yet to decide how to spend the additional funding from the enrollment increase and per pupil fund, McCarthy said some may go towards additional support staff.

Lakewood had projected a drop in 40 students this fall, but actually had a raise of 32.

“We’re very pleased with the preliminary, unconfirmed numbers,” Superintendent Randy Fleenor said. “If these numbers hold, this will be the first time in many, many years we have not registered a loss of students.”

Lakewood Business Director Ben Wakley said it was too early to put a number on the changes to the school's budget, but said he is “very optimistic about this year.”

But some administrators are wary the state budget may change over the next weeks or months. After looking at the governor's vetoes and the short amount of time spent negotiating the budget after it went to the governor, school officials said there is a good chance it could be renegotiated.

“Over there in Lansing its pretty hard to tell what they're going to do,” Wakley said.

While the per pupil increase is unlikely to change, other categories, such as funds for at-risk, rural schools, special education and more may change.

But after watching the state budget come in four months later than usual, and gridlock on top priorities such as road repairs, administrators say they aren't too optimistic about receiving more funding.

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