2017-10-12 / Front Page

County student count drops slightly

By Amy Hubbell
Of The Enterprise staff

Suttons Bay may be the big winner in enrollment this fall, but you wouldn’t know by looking at figures in the Oct. 4 student headcount taken last week.

Overall, student numbers dropped by eight in the count.

The Suttons Bay district, whose enrollments have dropped steadily over the past five years, continued to have fewer students in its classrooms. But the overall count that includes virtual students tells a different story.

“The budget was based upon 527 full-time equivalent (FTE) students,” interim superintendent Mike Carmean said. “The increase of 43.32 FTE above our goal is an increase of over $300,000 to our district.

“This will allow for our district to continue to reinvest into our educational programming.”

The tally of virtual students, however, is taken over a full month and students not in classrooms could be less likely to finish classes that deliver the district state aid.

Suttons Bay and Leland Public Schools are funded directly by a per pupil foundation allowance with budgets based on enrollment.

Overall, the number of students in Suttons Bay classrooms during the fall headcount has dropped over the past three years from 466 in 2015 to 447 last year and 434 this fall.

Still, the latest figure represents a 10-student increase from the February 2016 count.

But the addition of 156 virtual school enrollees representing just over 144 FTEs, the district has reason to celebrate.

“The count figures show an increase for the first time in at least five years,” Carmean said. “The virtual school continues to save your district.”

Unlike the physical count of students recorded only on the fourth Wednesday of September, the count for virtual students takes place over a four-week period.

However, if Suttons Bay receives the full 144 FTE for virtual instruction, it will have additional funds to work with.

The per-pupil fund influx plus $80,000 saved by replacing the former full-time superintendent position with a half-time administrator has allow the school to retain two teaching positions that were in limbo when the new school year began July 1. Also called back to work are longtime elementary school secretary Deb Kratochvil and secondary counseling secretary Lisa Stark, who was asked to work 20 days to help enroll the influx of virtual students.

The unanticipated funds have also allowed Carmean to hire a part-time teacher to help out with a large group of students at the fourth and fifth grade level in addition to a full-time aide brought in to help.

“It the state ever reduces that (virtual) funding, it’s going to hurt,” Carmean said.

Elsewhere in the county, Leland Public School incurred a double-digit increase in enrollment despite the decision to cap School of Choice enrollment in grades 1 through 4 as well as eighth grade.

Leland recorded 512 students in classes during the fourth Wednesday count — the highest count ever for the school and 30 higher than last fall’s count.

Leland also receives a boost in state aid by providing teacher for non-core areas such as Spanish to St. Mary School in Lake Leelanau. This year, Leland will be funded for the equivalent of 50 full-time students, bringing the fall headcount to 562.

Funding for Glen Lake Community Schools and Northport Public Schools are not directly tied to student foundation allowance as both are out-of-formula. That means their property tax base generates more locally than would come from the per pupil allowance from the state.

Glen Lake, whose SOC students comprise about 40 percent of total student body, opted for the first-time ever to close enrollment to all but a few slots in Young 5s and kindergarten to students living outside the district.

Last week’s count was 699, down from 717 at this time last year and more than 100 students fewer than the 805 recorded in October 2011.

Of the 699, some 331 were counted in kindergarten through fifth grades. Grades 6-12 account for 368 students, superintendent Sander Scott said.

Enrollment also fell in Northport, the county’s smallest school in terms of enrollment, where 145 students were counted last week.

“The numbers are as expected,” superintendent Neil Wetherbee said. “We lost 10 students who physically moved from the district and a few others who are attending other schools for reasons beyond our control.”

Northport’s Class of 2018 numbers 17, more than four times more than last year’s graduating class of four.

In addition, 13 kindergartners are enrolled this year. In October 2016, there were just five.

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