By Megan Kelley
The Lake Orion Community Schools Board of Education met virtually last Thursday with several presentations on the docket, one being the district’s yearly enrollment update.
Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Rick Arnett made it clear that while traditionally the district uses enrollment numbers to make projections, this year, the presentation will work as a update on where the district currently stands on enrollment.
In the spring of 2019, there were 7,101 students enrolled across all grade levels, including DK (developmental kindergarten), in Lake Orion schools.
When making their enrollment projections for the 2020-2021 school year, the district was anticipating a decline in enrollment of about 88 students, especially in the lower grade levels, with the expectation that about 7,013 students would enroll in DK-12.
However, while the district projected a decline, they did not estimate as steep of a decline as they ultimately had. LOCS enrollment on Oct. 19 of this year was just 6,696 students — 405 students less than the district had in the spring of last year, or 317 fewer total students than they had expected.
While these numbers look concerning for the district’s budget, they do not hurt the district as much as it typically would because of measures put into place by the state, Arnett said.
“The state takes two sets of numbers and weighs them and adds them together to determine what’s the number of student’s they’re going to pay us on. So, last year and prior years to that, it was 90 percent of the current year’s October count and 10 percent of the prior fiscal year’s February count,” said Assistant Superintendent of Business and Finance John Fitzgerald.
“As COVID became a very real situation, and all of the issues that came with it, they changed, for fiscal (year) ‘21 — and it appears to be a one time change — they changed that weighting so that there’s a 75/25 weight; meaning what we’re getting paid on is our student count, 75 percent of last years total weighted count and 25 percent of this years weighted count,” Fitzgerald said. “As it turns out, based on that change in formula…we landed just about where we had expected and projected prior to COVID.”
It is important to understand, however, that the change in the weighting formula, while it helps the district this year, if students who were enrolled before but did not enroll this year don’t return for the 2021-2022 school year, LOCS could find themselves in a very difficult financial situation, Fitzgerald, Arnett and Treasurer Jake Singer explained to the board.
“I think if history tells us anything with enrollment…I’m confident we will recoup a vast majority of those students,” Arnett said. “We’re not the only district experiencing this. We’re seeing a significant reduction in enrollment in kindergarten and first grade in literally every district across the state.”
Arnett added that families are not required to enroll a child in school until age six.
“So, we have a lot of families who have opted to say ‘I don’t want my kindergartener’s first experience to be what we’re going through this year. I’m going to wait and enroll my child a year from now.’ And we’ve had others that are opting for: ‘Well, I’m going to just homeschool this year, I’ll bring my kid back.’
“I don’t believe we’ve lost a significant number to other districts because they’re doing something different than us. I think they’re still here within the community opting for other programs or options and once we return to normal,” Arnett said. “We will see the vast majority of those individuals come back.”
LOCS has, for years now, had an issue with “aging out” — meaning the incoming class of kindergarteners has been smaller than the outgoing class of seniors. This year has only amplified this issue with the district seeing 213 fewer kindergarteners enrolling than the number of outgoing seniors.
“As I look at these enrollment trends and projections and so forth, I really have to look at them…with taking this year into account as being a very odd year and an anomaly and really look at the trends that were existing prior to this year,” Arnett said.
“We are aging out, our incoming kindergarten classes have been traditionally smaller than our outgoing seniors for the last several years. We’ll see a couple more years of that and that will start to flatten out.”