Student numbers slowly stabilize across area districts

SHIAWASSEE AREA — The downward trend of public school enrollment in and around Shiawassee County — exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic — appears to be reversing course for most area districts, according to preliminary numbers released this week.

Owosso Public Schools and Durand Area Schools reported double-digit enrollment losses after the first count day of the 2021-22 academic year, which took place Wednesday.

Morrice Area Schools and New Lothrop Area Public Schools reported enrollment losses of 10 or fewer students from the Spring 2021 count, while Corunna Public Schools, Chesaning Union Schools, Laingsburg Community Schools, Perry Public Schools and Ovid-Elsie Area Schools reported slight increases in enrollment.

Enrollment numbers for Byron Area Schools were not available at press time. The district had 717 students enrolled as of February.

Wednesday’s numbers mark a considerable shift from the fall 2020 count, when all 10 public school districts in The Argus-Press coverage area suffered substantial declines in enrollment, in part due to the onset of the pandemic. At the time, several area superintendents indicated the bulk of the enrollment losses were tied to families opting to homeschool their children as they awaited more clarity regarding the severity of the pandemic.

The apprehension surrounding face-to-face instruction appears to have subsided for many families, with the bulk of students returning to in-person learning this fall.

Perry Public Schools, which previously suffered a loss of 73 students between the spring and fall counts in 2020, reported the largest increase among area districts with 32 additional students from the spring, lifting overall enrollment to 989 students.

“We are encouraged by the increase in enrollment and are very happy to welcome back a number of our students who, for a variety of reasons, did not attend last year,” Superintendent Lori Haven said. “We have been declining in enrollment over the last several years, and are hopeful that our enrollment not only stabilizes, but begins to grow.”

Wednesday’s fall count determines 90 percent of school funding, with the remaining 10 percent based on a spring count day in February. The 90-10 formula marks a return to how Michigan counted its students prior to the pandemic.

For the 2020-21 academic year, per-pupil funding for districts was based on 75 percent of the previous year’s enrollment and 25 percent of the current year’s attendance, allowing districts not to be penalized if students left for other preferred learning plans during the pandemic.

Laingsburg Community Schools saw enrollment increase by 27 students from this spring, for a total of 1,150 students. Superintendent Matt Shastal said he’s thankful families are choosing Laingsburg for their children.

“We believe we have a lot to offer our students and families,” Shastal said. “Not only does every student have full access to a great teacher(s) everyday, but with the recent upgrades to our school district thanks to our 2019 bond we are planning to offer additional opportunities for our students K-12 in the area of the arts and co-curricular activities.”

Chesaning Union Schools added seven students from the spring. Corunna Public Schools and Ovid-Elsie Area Schools gained 15 apiece.

“It says wonders about the hard work all of our employees have done to build relationships with our students and our families,” Corunna Superintendent John Fattal said.

Owosso Public Schools reported a loss of 22 students from the spring count and 54 from last fall, the bulk of which can be attributed to a 23-student decrease at the district’s alternative high school, Superintendent Andrea Tuttle said. The district’s total enrollment stands at 2,938 students.

“I am pleased to see an increase in enrollment at the lower elementary level and in the number of school of choice students who are choosing Owosso Public Schools,” Tuttle said. “We attribute that to our outstanding academic and extra-curricular opportunities and a safe and secure learning environment.”

Durand Area Schools reported a loss of 30 students from the spring, bringing total enrollment to 1,239 students.

“We actually budgeted for 40 kids down due to kindergarten class size and graduation of a larger senior class,” Superintendent Craig McCrumb said. “Coming out of a year of COVID chaos, we weren’t sure where we would land with enrollment, but gaining 10 kids overall from what we should have lost feels about right.”

New Lothrop Area Public Schools reported a slight decline of 10 students from the spring to bring enrollment to 888 students. Morrice Area Schools remained relatively steady, losing only five students from the spring for a total enrollment of 482.

“From a budgetary standpoint, we are satisfied with where we are at in terms of district operations in the coming months. Given the recent decline in birthrates, we are excited to have a kindergarten class that has 53 students in it,” Superintendent Rob Pouch said. “The recent increase in per pupil funding will allow Morrice Area Schools to put plans in place to make certain our students are supported. Although the increase funding is great, it does not erase the educational cuts education has faced over the last 12 years.”

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