Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Certified Enrollment and the Budget

Do you realize that on Friday, we will finish the first quarter?  It is pretty amazing to me that we are already this deep into the school year.  All of our fall sports seasons are beginning to wrap up, and we enjoyed a music concert just this week.  I always seem to catch myself making comments like "next week won't be quite so busy", only to find that it is, and in many instances even more so.  However, there is no mistaking the fact that the fall season is an incredibly busy time for reports to be filed with the Department of Education.  Believe me, there are a plethora, and while each important in its own right, none can top the importance of the certified enrollment report.  This data is used to collect the primary variable for the school aid formula.  The number of students we have in our district this fall multiplied by the district cost per pupil will, in a nutshell determine the part of the foundation formula that is titled "Regular Program District Cost" for next year, and is the largest component of general fund operations. 

Back in the days when I worked in the Catholic school system, this was a pretty simple evolution to complete.  On count day we simply counted our students and presto, we were all done!  It is not nearly as simple as that, and is part of the reason why we have a two week window in which to complete this transaction.  Here is how it works:  On October 3rd, Count Day, we take a census of our student population.  The data is cleaned and uploaded onto a state database website where we can view duplicates.  Each student in Iowa is given a unique identifying code (kind of like a social security number) that follows them throughout their academic career.  When they move, transfer, open enroll, etc., this number remains constant.  Once that data is populated on the state site, we have to correct errors with other districts.  This is pretty normal and expected.  We may be counting a student that another district is counting for any number of reasons.  What we need to do then is have a conversation with that other district and come to an agreement on who should be counting them.

After the reconciliation of the data is complete, on October 15th, we certify the results and sign an electronic affidavit claiming the data is "true and accurate to the best of my knowledge".  From now until the end of the month, we will have several conference calls with the Department of Education for further clarification and reconciliation of the data.  (My first conference call will be at 4:30 this afternoon.)

Here are a couple of things to remember about the certified enrollment process:  any student that enrolls after October 3rd is not included on your official count, and therefore is not eligible for funding, and the certified enrollment number is used to calculate revenue projections for the next fiscal year.  You are all probably aware of the fact that we have enrolled a number of students since count day, and that a  number of them are concentrated in kindergarten. This has cause alarm and concern for all parties involved, and we are in the process of problem solving that issue right now.

Now there are different numbers that we need to be concerned with, including certified enrollment, BEDS enrollment, open enroll into the district, and open enroll out of the district.  For the purposes of this discussion, we will focus on BEDS and open enrollment.  The point to remember about all these trendlines is that they are in decline and it is critical that the district respond to these changes in demographics.  To put it quite frankly, we need to make sure we are staffed properly for our size of district.  The charts and graphs included on the next page illustrate the enrollment trends for the Hudson Community School District. 

BEDS Enrollment refers to the total number of students that are being served in the Hudson Community School District. It does not include the resident number of students who are open enrolled into another school district, students who are "tuition-in" to another school district, or students who are served in an interim placement for the purposes of special education or some other educational placement. What it does include is resident pupils served in the school district and open enroll students from other school districts that are served in our school district. As a point of reference, resident pupils generate $6,058 and open enroll students generate $5,883.

Open Enrollment Into Hudson is the total number of students attending Hudson from our neighboring school districts.  You may notice that the school district with the largest number of students enrolling into Hudson is is significant decline.  Obviously, that is the Waterloo Community School District, and Waterloo has adopted a plan to keep the balance of students in the district.  The plan specifies the percentage of students that can open enroll in and out of the district determined to balance diversity factors.  A district (Waterloo) may deny a timely filed application that would adversely impact the plan.  Standard procedure for Waterloo is to deny open enrollment requests out of their district, hence the decline in enrollment.

Open Enrollment Out of Hudson  These are the resident students that are attending school district other than Hudson.  You will notice that one district stands out above the rest, that district being Cedar Falls.  These open enrollment numbers also include students who are being served in districts outside the resident district for the purposes of special education, or also includes students who have moved into the district over the course of the summer who qualify for open enrollment under the "Good Cause" rule.  Our research into why open enrollment out of the school district occurs is typically because of convenience or work related logistics of parents. 

The Hudson Community School District is predicted to go through a period of declining enrollment for the next five years.  While it is difficult to predict this far out, assuming a stable retention of students year over year and a kindergarten enrollment of 50 pupils, the enrollment would continue to decrease until the current 8th grade class graduated in 2016-2017.  If numbers were to hold true, one could expect an increase in enrollment beginning the fall of the 2016-2017 school year.
Naturally a decrease in enrollment will result in a decrease in general fund revenue.  It will be important for the school district to make staffing adjustments that are appropriate to the size of the student body.  While in times of higher enrollment it is necessary for a larger number of staff, the opposite is also true.  The district is currently going through a period of 'right-sizing', which means that a staff to complement a smaller student body would be an appropriate and prudent course of action.

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