Declining Birth-Rates Hurt School Budget; School Board Forms Committee to Study Cost Reduction Options

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timthumb.phpThe Manchester Community School District is facing budgetary problems. A large portion of the budget is the amount of revenue the district receives from the state, per student enrolled. As enrollment figures decline, revenue declines.

(Of course, the state is also sending MCS fewer dollars per-student, which exacerbates the problem. We got about $7,500 per student in 2010; that dropped as low as $7,000 a few years ago, and is now back up to around $7,200 today.)

Student enrollment numbers are complex. We have three factors to deal with:

  1. How many school-aged children live in the school district?
  2. How many MCS students leave the district as part of the School of Choice process (established by law in 1996)?
  3. How many students from OTHER districts COME to MCS by School of Choice?

(Superintendent Cherie Vannatter provided the mirror with the raw data needed to perform this analysis.)

First, let’s look at our school-aged population over the last five years. In 2010, 1,221 school-aged children lived in the Manchester Community School District. In 2015, we had 1,097 school-aged children living in the district. It’s important to recognize that these are just the raw numbers of children in the district. You may ask, “Where did they go?” It’s hard to know for certain, but a simple answer is that they were never born.

We have 9% fewer kids today than we did five years ago. And it turns out that that is pretty much exactly the decline in the birth rate. Since 2008 (the start of the Great Recession), Washtenaw County has seen a decline in births of about 9%. Loss from this basic pool of kids may also be attributed to families moving to other parts of the state, or leaving the state altogether. But overall, the population of kids in the district seems to be heavily affected by a statewide decline in births (and a corresponding statewide decline in population).

After we consider the shrinking pool of kids who are potential MCS students, we do need to consider the School of Choice impact on our population. Again, let’s look at the five-year stretch. In 2010, 1,221 kids lived in the district, but only 1,172 of them attended school at MCS. That means 4% (49) of the AVAILABLE student population didn’t attend school at MCS. They either went to another district, or they stayed home and homeschooled. In 2015, the pool of available students had (as we have noted) shrunk to 1,097, but in that case only 995 of those students chose to attend MCS. That means 9% (102) of the available population was lost.

The key to all of this is that gaining and losing students through School of Choice is a wash. For example, in 2015, 52 Manchester students enrolled in another school district, while 110 students from other school districts enrolled in ours. But there are approximately 160 students in the district who choose not to attend any public school (they are either enrolled at a private school, or are homeschooled, and therefore aren’t tracked in the School of Choice Data). We “gain” more than we lose when we look at public school students, but we also have a large and difficult to assess population of students outside the public school system.

Another worthy note would be our general comparison to other districts in the region (like Clinton, Columbia Central, etc). Even though we have lost many students, we retain more students as a percentage of our population than the average of surrounding schools. In 2010, the average retention rate was 83%, while our retention rate was 96%; in 2015 the average was 75% while ours was 90%.

What does all this mean? First, our birth rate is down. Second, we lose more students to School of Choice now than we did 5 years ago, but we also GAIN more than we lose. Third, we retain more students overall than our peers do. And finally, the decline of the MCS student population (whatever the cause) is happening in the context of declining State support.

As the community struggles with these numbers, Superintendent Vannatter has issued a Community Letter outlining this basic argument. “There are just fewer students to educate,” she notes in the letter. “[T]hese factors are outside of our control.”

In the face of a declining student population, and reduced state support for education, the district is now considering how to reduce costs  in order to make our school system fit inside our smaller budget. They have formed a committee composed of teachers, support staff, parents, students, community members and administrators. They will study the situation, and advise the Board about how to best “re-align our resources, our staffing, and our facilities.” For full details, please read the letter linked to above.


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