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Fall student count day shows steep declines for several districts

Preliminary, unofficial enrollment counts taken on Wednesday, Oct. 7 by public school districts in Kent County showed most experienced declines. Seventeen of the 20 districts in Kent ISD responded to inquiries from School News Network. Each district is shown with its Wednesday count and the gain or loss from 2019 enrollments.   

Related: Districts hit with enrollment losses amid pandemic

Byron Center Public Schools: 4,310 (+63)

The district was one of the few to experience an uptick in enrollment this fall, though its student population falls a bit short of pre-pandemic enrollment projections of 2.3 percent growth.

The district projected flat enrollment in passing its 2020-2021 budget because of the potential impact of the pandemic, said Superintendent Kevin Macina. “We weren’t sure if families were going to choose different options.”

Growth and the state’s revised funding formula are positives, helping offset COVID-related costs, he said.

“It will definitely help with all the increased costs due to COVID. Since we increased students, we will be able to better meet their increased needs.”

Caledonia Community Schools: 4,691 (-176)

The sharp drop will have an $881,000 “negative impact to our budget, while at the same time having increased costs for PPE and other expenditures due to the pandemic,” said Michele Zoet, administrative assistant to the superintendent. Still, she added, “We are grateful for this new funding formula for 2020/21 as we otherwise would’ve been impacted by over $1.6 million with this enrollment decline.”

Cedar Springs Public Schools: 3,445 (-132)

“This is far less than we projected, as we were anticipating our enrollment increasing by 20 students,” said Chris LaHaie, chief financial officer. “Many of the students who are not currently attending CSPS have opted for home-school options, and we are confident they will be returning once we have moved beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Comstock Park Public Schools: 1,785 (-50) 

Despite the decline from 2019-20 enrollment – and 26 students fewer than projected – the district doesn’t expect to see a decrease in state funding, Superintendent Dave Washburn said. 

“When considering the super-blend formula and the additional $65 per pupil the district will be ahead around $7,000,” Washburn said. 

East Grand Rapids Public Schools: 2,820 (-67)

The district had projected a loss of 36 students due to COVID, but the numbers came in even lower. The drop was “very unusual,” said Anthony Morey, assistant superintendent of finance. “The number of students choosing home school is unprecedented.”

The decline means a loss of about $141,000 to the school district, Morey said.

Forest Hills Public Schools: 9,451 (-258)

The district’s preliminary count was down sharply both from last year’s 9,709 and its projection of 9,637 for this fall. “The majority of our loss is attributable to parents electing to home-school their child(ren) this year due to the pandemic,” Superintendent Dan Behm said. 

Godwin Heights: 2,004 (-44)

Though down by 42 students from projections, the district’s budget “will be held harmless with the new funding formula,” Superintendent Bill Fetterhoff said. 

Godfrey-Lee Public Schools: 1,186 (-16) 

Godfrey-Lee’s count was a loss of 16 from last fall but similar to that reported this spring. The district based the 2020-21 budget on a count of 1,830, so Wednesday’s number was just slightly under projections.

“To maintain enrollment in the midst of a pandemic, in a community that is disproportionately impacted by the effects of COVID-19, is a great affirmation of the trust the community has in the school district,” said Superintendent Kevin Polston. 

Grand Rapids Public Schools: (projected) 15,330 (-55)

Because GRPS has begun the first nine weeks with all-virtual learning, and using different accounting methods than in the past, it will require the 30-day window allowed by the state before issuing a count of all its students, Superintendent Leadriane Roby said. The district will move to a choice of virtual and in-person hybrid instruction on Oct. 26. 

“Based on the total number of students enrolled and participation rates during synchronous learning, we should be close to our projected enrollment of 15,330, but it is too premature to release a hard number at this time,” Roby said. 

Grandville Public Schools: 5,603 (+2)

The district budgeted for this school year based on no change in enrollment, and Wednesday’s numbers confirmed that estimate. That means the district will remain on target with regard to dollars received.

“With the uncertainty of families in earlier grades choosing to send their kindergartner to school for the first time or waiting a year, this is encouraging that our numbers are where they are at,” said Superintendent Roger Bearup. “Therefore, we are happy with our prediction of flat enrollment becoming a reality.”

Kelloggsville Public Schools: 2,285 (-128)

The district’s count was down slightly from a projected 2,290.

Kenowa Hills Public Schools: 3,125 (-29) 

The district’s decrease was 32 students below its pre-pandemic projection, resulting in a funding loss of approximately $117,000, said Director of Finance John Gilchrist. He attributed most of the drop to the K-Knights kindergarten readiness program, which was down 29 from projections. 

“It seems parents chose to keep those kids home this year rather than enroll them,” Gilchrist said. “If they had come as planned, we would have been right in line with a year ago and our estimated numbers.”

Kent City Community Schools: 1,290 (-30)

“That is about what we had projected, given all the uncertainties that this pandemic has presented us,” said Superintendent Mike Weiler. “The new enrollment funding formula will help us as a declining enrollment district to reduce the gap in students between this year and last.”

Kentwood Public Schools: 9,250 (-86)

The decline follows a time period of growing enrollment, said Superintendent Mike Zoerhoff. 

“We have increased over 400 students the last four years so this could very well just be a down year for enrollment,” he said

The district based the 2020-21 budget on flat enrollment and is pleased to have the new funding formula in place, he added. “We are very appreciative that the legislators and governor have allocated 75% of our funding based on last year’s enrollment. That will allow us to remain fairly stable in regards to any minimal cuts or budget adjustments.” 

Lowell Area Schools: 3,616 (-160)

Rockford Public Schools: 7,740 (-238) 

The district’s sharp decline from last fall far exceeds the 50- or 60-student losses during the Great Recession of 2008-10, said Mike Cuneo, assistant superintendent of finance. 

And yet the state’s revised per-pupil funding formula, plus the one-time add of $65 per student, will offset a revenue loss that would have reached about $1.6 million under the old funding formula, Cuneo said.

”We’re very fortunate in terms of where we thought we were going to be three months ago,” he said.  

Sparta Area Schools: 2,465 (+2) 

Far from losing 25 students as projected, Sparta schools saw a gain of two – “good news for our district in the midst of a pandemic!” said Superintendent Pete Bush.

“If these numbers hold through our final audit, it would mean an additional $220,000 in funding for our school district above our projected revenue.”

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