School officials pleased by enrollment figures

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Frank Schultz
Friday, February 1, 2013

— Those who keep track of trends for the Janesville School District know enough to expect enrollments to drop. So when they drop only a little, officials breathe a sigh of relief.

The latest official count, released today, shows a decline of 30 students from last September to Jan. 11.

"It is encouraging," said Director of Student Services Yolanda Cargile, especially because a drop-off is normal in the first half of the school year.

Last year at this time, officials were looking at a decrease of 95 students from September to January. They were also reporting a decrease of 62 students from January 2011 to January 2012.

This year, the four-month decline is only 30, and compared with last January, enrollment actually increased, from 10,193 to 10,276.

"I wouldn't say birthday cake and balloons and flyers, but it is a plus that we aren't down as many as we were last year," Cargile said.

Tracking the reasons families leave or enter the district is difficult and not something the district has done, Cargile said. Often, the reason a particular family leaves is never known.

City officials can't say much, either.

Terry Nolan, an associate planner for the city, points out that housing growth has been stagnant since the General Motors plant closed four years ago.

Most housing growth in the city has been northeast of Interstate 90/39, Nolan noted, and that area is mostly in the Milton School District.

At the same time, census figures show the size of the average family here declined from 2000 to 2010, from 2.99 to 2.95, reflecting the national trend, Nolan said.

Another major factor is families coming to the city or leaving.

"It's hard to get a handle on what the out-migration is, how many people have left since GM closed," Nolan said.

The city has seen a recent bump in new housing starts, "which is encouraging," Nolan said.

One reason school enrollments are important is because they are a major determinant of district revenue. The decrease of 30 students this year will result in a decrease of state equalization aid of about $100,000 for the fiscal 2013-2014 year, if all other factors remained the same, the district reported.

The bigger decline last year meant a decrease of equalization aid of about $300,000.

Future enrollment is of high interest but hard to determine.

The latest study of district enrollments was done in 2010. It suggested steady or decreasing enrollment through 2020. However, the study is based on previous trends of people moving to or leaving the district. If those trends change, enrollment could change.

The school board has told Superintendent Karen Schulte that she should work hard to stem the tide and maybe even increase enrollments.

One initiative is paying off in a small way. The Janesville Virtual Academy, which has been only for high school students, opened its doors to middle school students this year, and six are now counted on district rolls.

Another effort was going on this week, as Cargile's staff called home-schooling parents to remind them that their high school students are eligible to take up to two high school classes here.

The district also hopes its variety of programs will encourage home-schoolers or families from other districts to enroll their children here.

The district's Challenge Program attracts gifted students, for example. The TAGOS Leadership Academy might attract middle and high school students interested in alternative, project-based education.

A school board decision is pending on another effort, an expansion of Rock River Charter School, which would attract dropouts under age 21 with the lure of a high school diploma. Dropouts can't be counted in enrollment numbers now.

Another future hope is Schulte's China initiative.

She's hoping to get parents in China to send their children here for their last two years of high school. The students would come with the intention of getting ready to go to college in the U.S.

Last updated: 8:14 am Monday, April 29, 2013

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