Districts prepare for next count

Center Grove is 21 students away from the number school officials were expecting in 2022, according to the most recent count of students.

That’s fewer students than it would take to completely fill up one classroom at a Center Grove elementary school.

The school district’s growth was the largest in the county. The district now has 7,809 students, which is 60 more than were enrolled in the fall.

Enrollment growth hit a lull four years ago, but enrollment started increasing when more people began building houses on the south side of White River Township.

The growth in the student population is why Center Grove officials are considering redistricting options that could send about 370 elementary school students, or about 10 percent, to different buildings next year.

Across the county, most school districts have about the same or slightly fewer students attending their schools. The most recent numbers, which will be submitted to the state and used to determine how much funding schools receive, were a relief to school officials who had been concerned their numbers would drop. Decreases in enrollment could mean a cut in funding.

Last week, Franklin had 5,100 students enrolled, up one from last fall. Greenwood had 3,762 students, down three from September. Edinburgh and Clark-Pleasant schools have 15 and 16 fewer students attending, respectively, while 23 fewer students are attending Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson schools, officials said.

School districts already submitted one student count to the Indiana Department of Education. Previously, the state counted students once, during the fall. Now, the state does a second count in February.

The state’s logic behind the second count is that funding needs to follow students who transfer midway through the school year so that schools can pay for additional resources. But that creates a problem for school districts that lose students, because employees’ contracts run through the school year and those employees have to be paid regardless of how much funding the state provides, Franklin director of finance Jeff Mercer and Greenwood director of fiscal services Todd Pritchett said.

“That works really well on paper,” Mercer said. “In practice, it doesn’t work.”

Last winter, Greenwood was down 60 students between the fall and winter, and this is only the second time Franklin hasn’t lost students between the fall and spring semesters, administrators said. If school districts lose too many students, they won’t receive enough money from the state to pay for all of the teachers contracted for the school year, and they’ll have to find money elsewhere to pay those employees.

Last year, Greenwood schools had to spend $440,000 in money it had received from the state but hadn’t spent. The school district was closed to transfer students last school year, but it reversed its policy as a way to attract more students. More than 70 students had transferred into Greenwood at the start of the school year, and now that number is close to 90, Pritchett said.

“Hopefully we will continue to retain the students we currently have and perhaps attract other students,” he said.

At Franklin, about 40 students left midway through each school year between 2005 and 2013. Last winter, the number of students attending Franklin didn’t drop between first and second semesters.

Mercer doesn’t know why enrollment has held steady for two consecutive years. But the high school’s Franklin Academy, which provides online courses for returning and current students, has been essential in stopping students from dropping out.

Last school year, more than 100 seniors, or about 25 percent of the class of 2014, took a course through Franklin Academy either because they had failed previously or wanted to earn a better grade.