Enrollment: Harder to project and higher stakes

By Doug Barker

The Daily World

Not that they needed any more, but school district’s have another complication to deal with this spring: projecting enrollment for next fall at a time when students aren’t in classrooms and thereby easy to count. The exercise is important because by law, May 15 is the date by which they have to have offered teaching contracts for next fall. If they project high and offer too many contracts it could bust their budgets for 2020-21.

The Aberdeen School District is making a concentrated push to connect with families. It’s the first week back after spring vacation and they are reaching out to make sure that every student is getting squared away to participate in the unfolding remote learning plan. And secondly, they are trying to glean what they can to help make an enrollment projection when some families are dealing with uncertainty from the COVID pandemic.

Aberdeen schools Superintendent Alisha Henderson had this statement on the district’s Facebook page Monday:

”We hope your experience this week as we welcome students back to school (from a safe learning distance!) is positive and productive.

“All Aberdeen school families will receive phone calls this week to ensure students have what they need for distance learning this spring, and to find out whether students will be returning in the fall for the 2020-2021 school year.

“The district needs everyone’s help to project enrollment for the fall. The number of students we expect to serve is perhaps the single most vital piece of information used to prepare a budget and to staff our schools.

“The nature of running the office from a distance means our calls may come in from “unknown caller.” If you’re not comfortable answering, please contact your student’s school so we can follow up. Thank you!”

In the case of the Aberdeen district, the possibility of staff reductions was under consideration even before the pandemic. State funding formulas unfavorable to district’s with relatively low property values is driving the need for $1.5 million in spending reductions for next school year, according to information presented to the district’s budget advisory group. A cut that big would almost certainly mean fewer teachers, losing some positions because of retirements and perhaps others because there was not enough money to offer teachers contracts.