By DAVID GREEN
Morenci school superintendent Kyle Griffith expected a decline in enrollment for the 2008-09 school year and he crafted a budget showing 20 fewer pupils.
Unfortunately, even that wasn’t a deep enough cut.
The official student count day last Thursday left Morenci with an enrollment of 842 students, down from 871 a year ago and eight fewer than predicted.
Griffith knows that enrollment declines are a statewide trend. A year ago, 406 of the state’s 552 public schools showed declining enrollment. He’s looked at a 10-year study of Lenawee County schools that shows losses in eight of the county’s 12 public schools.
Still, Morenci’s steady decline over the past three years and the general downward trend over the past dozen is a matter of great concern. With Michigan’s continuing economic troubles, the problem could worsen as families continue to leave the state to find jobs elsewhere.
State legislators are hinting that per-pupil state aid will increase, but that won’t make up for Morenci’s shortfall with enrollment at eight students less than expected.
A decline was anticipated due to the difference between last year’s graduating class and the number of kindergarten registrations.
When classes opened in August, the kindergarten enrollment stood at an unusually low 47—13 fewer than a year ago and a fraction of the size 50 years ago when an all-time high of 117 students were starting school.
Looking ahead, the difference between this year’s senior class and the kindergarten class is 20 students, signaling an additional decline a year from now.
It’s a situation that board members and administrators find very frustrating.
“The community needs to applaud the board because they’ve made some tough decisions to protect the classroom,” Griffith said, “but this time we may not have an option.
“We need to make sure the size of our teaching staff fits our enrollment,” he said. “Finding the right fit, unfortunately, most likely results in layoffs.”
In addition to cuts in the teaching staff, Griffith said he will look at reductions in bus routes and other areas where declining enrollment makes an impact.
“We will continue to work hard to control the things we can control financially and take advantage of opportunities that occur,” he said.
He intends to hold off staffing decisions until the spring so that changes will come at the start of a new school year.
Where are they going?
Over the past dozen years of declining enrollment, administrators have never been able to grasp any clear reason for the trend.
Despite a small seventh grade class, enrollment increased from last year by 13 students in the middle school. Elementary school enrollment went down by 10 as a growth in the developmental kindergarten class moderated part of the huge drop in the kindergarten.
The biggest change came at the high school level. The smallest class in the school—tenth grade with 44 students—decreased by six over the summer. The junior class lost eight students over the summer and the senior class fell by 13.
Administrators haven’t yet had the opportunity to track down where those 27 students are now attending school—if they’re enrolled at all—although Griffith knows a small number are taking classes in Morenci’s alternative school program.
Losses to neighboring districts through the schools of choice option won’t be announced for several weeks, but Griffith said Morenci enrolled 15 new schools of choice students in addition to those enrolled last year. In the last school year, 50 students attended school here from other districts while 44 from Morenci chose to go elsewhere.
Griffith could have nearly matched his budgeted expectations through schools of choice, but seven students were turned away due to disciplinary or behavioral problems in their home district.
“I think it’s good that we’re not just taking anybody,” Griffith said. “We’re careful with who we take and we want to maintain our high standards.”