School district disappointed with low enrollment numbers

BROOKINGS – Preliminary fall enrollment for the Brookings School District came in lower than expected, causing some headaches for the district as officials work around the new numbers.

Based on projections from the state demographer who worked on a series of projections for upcoming years, the school district made its budget for the 2018-2019 school year based around a total enrollment of an estimated 3,452 students. As of the Tuesday school board meeting, however, the enrollment so far is 3,408.

Although this means there has been a growth of 5.5 percent compared to last year’s enrollment of 3,402, this shortfall has ramifications on the amount of state aid the school district receives. The loss of about 44 expected students results in a loss of about $248,000 in budgeted revenue from state aid.

In a separate interview, Superintendent Klint Willert said that little can be done immediately to address the budget shortfall, mostly because of contracts in place for a variety of staffing positions and services.

“Are there going to be some big, draconian things we can do right now? Absolutely not. What we want to do is look at those little incremental things,” Willert said.

That means looking to save some money in operational costs such as transportation or trying to minimize staff overtime expenses.

Still, the problem it presents to the budget does need to be addressed, and so Business Manager Brian Lueders presented three options for the district to take in the long term, the first of which is transferring all funds from the pension fund into the general fund.

If the district does transfer those funds, “that’ll help us significantly with the $248,000 loss, and it’ll also at the same time close out the pension fund,” Lueders said.

If they do go that route, it’d likely be done in June as a budget supplement item.

They also could have a school finance ad hoc committee and administrative team review the 2018-2019 budget and look for budget reductions.

Lastly, the school board could have administrative staff look for budget reductions during budget meetings for the 2019-2020 budget.

School board member Roger DeGroot found the preliminary enrollment numbers troubling, especially with the number of seniors and kindergartners down compared to last year. In May 2018, there were 208 enrolled seniors and 292 enrolled kindergartners. As of Oct. 4, there were 199 enrolled seniors and 247 kindergartners.

Finding out why these two groups are down might help explain the difference between the projections and the reality, DeGroot suggested.

“I would like to see some kind of an analysis on why that’s happening, whether it’s online classes that other schools are offering – they can’t drop out because of compulsory education,” DeGroot said.

He added that while he understands that there will be some ups and downs in enrollment from year to year, “after the last three years, it’s kind of alarming to me when I hear Dr. Willert say we’re losing kids at the high school and we’re down a few at other grade levels. That’s concerning. I think we can at least find out why some of these things are happening and then report back to us.”

In his separate interview with The Brookings Register, Willert said that he does envision talking with the demographer about the projections and that he intends to do some outreach with the Brookings Area Chamber of Commerce and the Brookings Economic Development Corporation to better understand the state of and effects of the area’s economic development.

“Certainly, there are still people coming in and moving here, so we still have an optimistic eye to the future. It’s not that there’s a huge chasm that we have to cross,” Willert said. “This is something I think we have to plan for in the long term but understand that we have to have some strategies to address things in the short term.”

Contact Eric Sandbulte at [email protected]


Video News
More In Homepage