The Fairfield Community School District Board of Directors heard a report on student enrollment at its meeting Nov. 20.
The board was presented with documentation showing the certified enrollment for this fall was 1,591.04 students (not all students are fulltime which is why there are fractions). That number is a drop of 45.51 students from the prior year when enrollment was 1,626.55. Superintendent Laurie Noll said the decline entails losing about $300,000 in revenue from the state, because the state awards schools $6,591 per student.
Noll said the district has its finances in order and has planned for the cuts.
?We are stronger financially than we?ve been in two decades,? she said. ?In our calculations, we anticipated losing 50 students, so we knew we were not going to receive as much aid from the state. That has been built into our five-year projections.?
Noll said the school district?s board of directors is very aware of the strain that declining enrollment places on the budget.
?If an employee leaves, we always ask, ?Is this a position we can do without??? Noll said.
At the same time, the board and administration want to ensure their students receive the best education available.
?We have made our curriculum a priority, and we?ve been able to provide the materials kids need,? she said.
Changes in enrollment can vary greatly from one year to the next. Fairfield has lost students two years in a row, but gained 12.5 students between the fall of 2014 and the fall of 2015. Overall, though, the district has shed about 37 students per year for the last 12 years. Open enrollment into and out of the district has been a wash, meaning the number of students enrolling here from outside the district (105 this fall) is about the same as the number who live in the district but go to school elsewhere (103 this fall). Open enrollment into the district appears to be on a slight uptick from 2005, when it was 76, compared to 102 students open enrolling out of the district that same year.
Here is Fairfield?s fall certified enrollment for the past 13 years rounded to the nearest whole number.
What?s striking about Fairfield?s falling enrollment is that it?s happening at a time when the town?s population is stable and maybe even increasing. The number of people here was nearly the same in 2010 (9,454) as it was 10 years earlier when the population was 9,592. The U.S. Census Bureau released a new estimate of the town?s population earlier this year in which it stated the population had risen to 10,206 in 2016.
Noll said that, even if there might be more people in the district, those people don?t seem to be bringing many school-age children with them, or having them once they move here.
She has spoken with representatives of Fairfield Economic Development Association about the importance of attracting businesses to the area, which has a positive cascading effect on the school.
Whatever is causing the decline in enrollment, it?s important to know that Fairfield is not alone. In fact, nearly all surrounding school districts are in the same boat, learning how to make do with less money as their enrollment numbers dip.
From the fall of 2006 to the fall of 2016, the Fairfield school district lost 17.2 percent of its students. As a point of comparison, here is the percentage drop in enrollment for neighboring districts during that same span:
Pekin: 16.8 percent
Cardinal: 16.3 percent
Van Buren: 18.3 percent
Harmony: 20.9 percent
Mt. Pleasant: 7.5 percent
Washington: 3.1 percent
Ottumwa: 2.6 percent
New London: 12.8 percent
WACO: 15.8 percent
Danville was among the few schools in southeast Iowa to gain students. Its student body rose 9.5 percent.
Data from the Iowa Department of Education show that, of the 333 districts in the state, 250 of them have lost students during that 10-year span. More specifically, almost one-third of them, 105, have declined between 10 and 19 percent, the category Fairfield is in. Noll said that the southeast and northwest portions of the state seem to be hurting the most for enrollment.
Where are they going?
While most of the state?s districts are watching their students move away, a select few have more than they can handle. Twelve districts have increased enrollment between 10-20 percent, and 18 have increased it more than 20 percent. Noll said these tend to be in large metropolitan areas. For instance, Iowa City has grown 24 percent, and Pleasant Valley in Davenport has jumped 41 percent.
Des Moines? suburban schools are growing by leaps and bounds, too. They include schools such as North Polk, Ankeny, Johnston and especially Waukee, whose student body doubled since 2006, the largest increase of any district. Noll said a representative from Waukee spoke at a superintendents? meeting a few years ago about how their district was handling such growth. It turns out that growing so rapidly carries its own set of problems.
?Waukee was still having to cut programs and lay off teachers, even while they were struggling to build buildings for all the students,? Noll said.