Glenwood, Fremont-Mills School Districts Experience Enrollment Declines
The Glenwood Community School District’s enrollment is down for the 2022-2023 school year.
Glenwood is down 15 students in its certified enrollment submitted to the state in October. After seeing a slight uptick of seven students a year ago, the district’s current enrollment is 1,918.87.
What that dip in students means for Glenwood is a loss of state aid of more than $100,000.
Glenwood Superintendent Devin Embray said the student loss was unexpected.
“We were optimistic we’d go up a little bit,” he said. “However being down 15 is preferable to a big drop like 20 or 30, which would really hurt us.”
A budget hit like $100,000 is nothing to shrug off but Embray isn’t ready to hit the panic button.
“We need to continue to be frugal with our spending and we have enough to make up that loss,” Embray said. “Obviously, our costs go up every year. We’re not spiraling downward, in my opinion; we’ve been pretty steady. We’ve been able to weather those down years fairly well and that’s a tribute to just trying to stay strong in finances so we don’t get over-extended that we can’t make up for a short year.”
It does appear possible Glenwood could operate next year on the state-mandated budget guarantee which allows districts that experience enrollment drops to adjust their expenditures before the deduction in funding kicks in. The one-year freeze would cap state aid at 101 percent of the funding a district received the previous year.
But with the state legislature still to decide the state supplemental aid package, its unclear just how likely the budget guarantee is for Glenwood, according to Embray.
“We may not know until March when we begin to set our budget,” he said. “I personally don’t feel like we’ll be on the budget guarantee but we’ll have to figure out where we are with our (spending) authority and our cash and the state to let us know.”
The state’s current $3.5 billion general-fund budget for elementary and secondary schools in its 327 school districts provides $7,413 per pupil in state supplemental aid to cover yearly instruction costs. That funding is collected through property tax, as well as state and federal aid.
At the Fremont-Mills Community School District, a now three-year trend of declining enrollment continued with the loss of 14 students this year. FM was down seven students last year and 21 the year before.
“You never want to lose enrollment but we feel like from a monetary standpoint, we’re in good shape,” said Fremont-Mills Superintendent Dave Gute.
Glenwood’s yo-yo enrollment trend goes back years. In 2021-2022 Glenwood picked up seven students after losing six students the year before. In 2019-2020, the district lost more than 80 students.
Many issues have contributed to enrollment losses.
Embray cited the pandemic, lingering impacts from 2019’s flooding and changes in open enrollment laws as contributing factors. The new open enrollment law did away with the March 1 deadline and now allows students to change districts at any time without a cutoff date.
“The one caveat (to the new law) that has helped is that if a student leaves after the enrollment certification date, their state supplemental aid does not follow them. It stays with us.”
At Fremont-Mills, Gute pointed to Fremont County’s shrinking population base.
“Fremont County had the largest population drop in the state from 2010 to 2020 so our number of students within our borders has gone down,” Gute said.
Gute said the district had a graduating class of 38 last year but only 25 kindergarten enrollments.
“We thought our number would be better but it didn’t work out that way,” he said.
Fremont-Mills did operate on the budget guarantee last year and, much like Glenwood, appeared headed that way once again.
“Fourteen students is $100,000,” he said. “But if SSA (state supplemental assistance) comes in at 2.5 percent, then maybe we’re not (on the budget guarantee).”
Embray said the financial losses aren’t likely to have any immediate impact on Glenwood’s budget.
“I don’t think we’ll make any rash decisions about reducing any staffing or anything like that at this point,” he said. “We’re so short staffed at this point the amount of dollars that we’ve lost because we’re operating short is actually probably balancing out because those salaries aren’t being paid out at this time.”
Glenwood is down “more than a dozen” classified and non-classified staff, according to Embray.
Just how to target both the loss of students and staff shortages isn’t an easy or overnight fix.
“We’ll continue to do the best we can to market public education,” he said. “It’s taken a bad wrap the last few years and it’s uncalled for. There’s issues with education but you don’t have to throw the baby out with the bathwater to get fixes.”
One fix Glenwood is targeting for recruiting teachers is a “grow your own program” that will go before the board of education later this month. That program will offer paraprofessionals working in the district the chance to earn teaching degrees through an area college or university and then come to work in the district after graduation.
Embray said the program would also be offered to students after graduation.
The East Mills Community School District’s enrollment stayed steady at 420 students – a one student addition over last year’s enrollment – in their certified 2022-2023 enrollment, according to Darla Hetzel, business office manager.