By Megan Kelley
Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Rick Arnett presented Lake Orion Community Schools enrollment numbers and projections to the school board on Nov. 20.
The numbers presented were not the official audited headcount numbers, and were strictly resident only students, Arnett said.
Overall, the district saw a 70-student increase across all grade levels.
While this number certainly supports the district’s assertion that they do not have declining enrollment, it is important to note the difference in enrollment numbers between exiting seniors and incoming kindergarteners.
According to Arnett, LOCS has 167 fewer incoming kindergarteners than outgoing seniors.
LOCS currently houses 6,466 resident students. Last year, the district’s resident enrollment across all grades was 6,563 students.
The combined 70-student increase among all other grades reduces the 167 student difference slightly and leaves the total enrollment change at 97 fewer resident students than last year, according to presentation documents.
LOCS has had a consistently negative residential enrollment change over the past 13 years. The average enrollment change per year over the past 10 years is 126 fewer students per year, according to district documents.
The net enrollment change this year, while still in the negatives, is better than those from the past seven years.
“We are not losing enrollment, we have an aging-out issue,” Arnett said. “We had much larger classes many years ago and our incoming kindergarten is not nearly the same size.”
This year, there are 69 more kindergarteners enrolled than last year. Over the past three years, the district has averaged a 17 percent increase in kindergarten enrollment.
Birthrates also play a big role in how many students any given district can anticipate enrolling.
From 1999, Oakland County saw a decline in its birth rate. It wasn’t until 2011 that there was a slight increase (241 children). Since then, birth rates have remained relatively consistent, documents showed.
Overall, over the past three years the average birth rate change has been an increase of 0.27 percent, with LOCS capture rate average at 3.09 percent.
If LOCS’s capture rate sticks with the average from the past three years, LOCS is looking at a kindergarten class of 419 students next year, Arnett said.
“Had we used the previous three-year average, this year’s kindergarten class would have been 379. But as I said before, we’re at 461,” Arnett said. “Our average…we captured 3.43 percent of the county birth rate this year and the three-year average would have been 2.82 (percent). So, we were up well over a half percent. And a half percent doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you’re talking about 13,000 students that half percent is a significant number and as we found out, it equated to 60 additional kids that we didn’t budget for.”
While these numbers are specifically resident enrollment, it is also important to note that LOCS does accept School of Choice students.
Allowing School of Choice is one way that the district can combat negative changes in residential enrollment.
“We did gain an additional 30 School’s of Choice students this year,” Arnett said. “Last year’s School’s of Choice enrollment was 468; this year’s is 498. So, we’ve picked up an additional 30 (students), which is helpful as well.”
Arnett also spoke to the board about real estate in the area.
In both the 48359 and 48360 area codes there was a large increase in total transactions — 22.64 percent in 48359 and 43.53 percent in 48360.
Arnett showed the correlation between real estate transactions and future enrollment by directing the board to the jump in purchased real estate in 2013. In 2013, 48359 saw a 32.67 percent increase in real estate transactions.
“That’s about the same time frame as the kindergarten enrollment we have now,” Arnett said. “So, people were moving in and we’re seeing that increase in kindergarten from about five years ago. When people talk about development and so forth…if a new development goes in, you don’t really expect to see children out of that development for about five years. That’s sort of the general practice or standard.”
Arnett reiterated that he believes LOCS has “stabilized” their enrollment and that they will continue on the path they’re on for the next three to five years.
“From a capacity stand point we feel really good about where we’re at with all of our elementaries,” said Arnett. “Would we possibly need to do some redistricting down the road? Yes, and that’s not uncommon.”
After the presentation was posted on the Facebook group The Lake Orion Chat Room, one resident raised the question as to why the district decided to close an elementary school in 2017.
“The number of students in elementary grades had dropped significantly,” LOCS school board Trustee Jake Singer replied. “For the past several years, there have been 100-plus fewer newly entering kindergarteners as compared to the number of seniors graduating. It was not efficient to continue operating seven elementary schools when the elementary enrollment was down by over 100-plus students per grade. Additionally, LOCS enrolls about 50 out-of-district School of Choice students in each grade.”
Arnett’s full presentation can be viewed online at www.playback.orionontv.org/CablecastPublicSite/?channel=2.