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Enrollments may not always add up

Pinpointing public school enrollment numbers is like herding cats. They're here, they're there, they're all over the place. The day we publish school enrollments, they're already inaccurate. That's because they're fluid, volatile numbers. Kids co...

Pinpointing public school enrollment numbers is like herding cats. They're here, they're there, they're all over the place.

The day we publish school enrollments, they're already inaccurate. That's because they're fluid, volatile numbers. Kids come and go. Parents move; families relocate.

Recently we printed numbers from Park Rapids, Menahga and Nevis.

Ostensibly, they showed the two smaller districts had benefited at Park Rapids' expense - literally - taking students and federal funds with them.

That may or may not be the case, but it didn't stop readers from advancing conspiracy-type theories about "underlying problems" and "smaller is better."

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A close look at the numbers doesn't support a mass exodus from Park Rapids. That's because a larger than average class of seniors just graduated; a smaller than average class of kindergartners started this fall. It's like squeezing the toothpaste at both ends - the tube is noticeably smaller.

Certainly open enrollment causes all of Minnesota's school populations to fluctuate.

School surveys of open enrolled students have uncovered some pretty flimsy reasons why students jump schools - dissatisfaction with the coach, the science teacher, the hall custodian. They run the gamut.

Then there's the athletic team draw - who doesn't want to jump on the bandwagon of a winning team? Parents want their kids to be starters, not riding the pine. Whether schools actively lure ringers to fill out athletic rosters is up to you readers to decide.

Do schools likewise attract the best and brightest or are the disaffected, disenchanted students moving from school to school?

It's hard to say that large forces are at work when enrollment numbers are viewed in a single microcosm. Park Rapids, Nevis and Menahga all have top-notch school systems and are lucky they have attracted the level of talent that staffs their classrooms, their administrative offices and yes, their custodial closets.

Kids get roughly comparable educations, whether in town, or 10 or 20 miles away. They walk through gleaming hallways and are challenged daily to do their best.

Teachers are passionate about their students and subjects; administrators who can work their way through the morass of budgets and financing would no doubt be able to tackle $700 billion of mortgage-backed securities to straighten out Wall Street. These folks are CEO material.

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Sure, there's the occasional stumble, but do we really want our schools to embark on recruiting missions much like colleges, just to preserve the status quo?

A fiscal analysis done by a Minnesota House committee in 2006 indicated that by 2009, 79 percent of school districts would experience declining enrollment.

With that in mind, it seems premature to read too much into these early enrollment numbers and assign a cause and effect. Or to prognosticate that alarming trends are at work here.

Because, like Wall Street, the numbers will keep evolving.

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