December 2008 Your Turn

The complexity of student migration

Your enrollment is declining and you’re building new schools -- now explain that to the taxpayers. If you’re a school board member or administrator, you could probably come up with a number of scenarios whereby this would make perfect sense: Just be sure your district has a good PR department.

For this month’s question, we asked if your enrollment was growing, declining, remaining stable, or shifting within the district. Forty-seven percent said your district’s enrollment has remained fairly stable, 21 percent reported growing enrollment, 26 percent said enrollment is declining, and 5 percent said you’ve mainly faced in-district migration.

More significant than these numbers, perhaps, is the sheer complexity of dealing with student migration, regardless of the form it takes. Consider the case described by Laura Carley, a North Dakota board member who sent us a detailed response.

Carley’s district is both losing students overall and experiencing in-district migration. “We have been tracking the ‘projections,’ and they have been fairly close to what has been occurring,” she said. “That does not make it any easier for our taxpayers to understand why we are building new facilities in new areas of town while trying to figure out how to keep our older elementary schools serving their neighborhoods.”

The district has a long-term facilities plan that it keeps updating. The challenge has been to keep up with growth in expanding neighborhoods, stabilize enrollments in declining areas, and -- while all of this is happening -- reduce school size to avoid the kind of “mega-schools” opposed by the community.

“Our numbers are improving from a decline, but we have built more schools,” Carley said. “Far too much time has been spent defending and explaining our plan. So if anyone has a good way to predict enrollment, we are interested.”

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