Michael D. Clark reports:
The school year might be finished but there is no end in sight for shrinking enrollments at some once-booming, suburban school systems.
The trend adds to the nervousness of Southwest Ohio school officials and school parents who await the state budget’s unveiling later this month. Smaller enrollment often means less school funding in Ohio’s biennium budgets. And fewer state dollars mean districts often ask voters to pay higher school taxes.
“It’s a guessing game now when it comes to the state budget and it is definitely a concern about what the future will hold,” says Kathy Cook, mother of twoin Lakota Schools, which has seen both declining enrollments and lagging state funding in recent years.
Enrollments in some area suburbs slowly began to shrink after the 2007 housing market collapse. The trend gained momentum around 2010 when federal stimulus education money that protected many districts from the impact of a still sluggish economy began to run out. Since then, many area districts have also been battling historic financial challenges that included making millions of dollars in budget cuts at the same time enrollments declined.
Other contributing factors:
- A slower turnover in home sales meant fewer young families moved in.
- Many families decided to enroll their children elsewhere to avoid schools hit hard by budget cuts.
- A decades-long trend of children of the “baby boom” generation graduating from local schools and not staying in the community.
According to the U.S. Census estimates released last week, the school age population – children 5-17 – fell in all but five of Ohio’s 88 counties between 2010 and 2012.
Butler County was among the five but showed only 0.2 percent increase.
“This is a nationwide trend in successful school districts. We have high graduation rates, high college attendance rates, and our kids leave their hometown,” says Randy Oppenheimer, spokesman for the top-rated Lakota Schools. (more…)