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Schools in market for students; slow, steady enrollment predicted

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Local school districts no longer should expect to see several hundred new students enrolling for class each year, but they don’t need to worry about an ongoing enrollment drop either.

Center Grove and Franklin schools both lost six students this year, while Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson schools lost 39 students. Center Grove had been expecting an additional 100 students this year, and the unexpected losses hurt school districts, which base their budgets on the number of students enrolled.

Last month, Center Grove, which receives $4,785 from the state for each student, announced it needed to cut about $230,000 from its budget because of the loss. That could mean eliminating classroom aide positions.

Center Grove’s enrollment likely will fluctuate from year to year, but Ball State assistant professor of marketing Susan Brudvig, who completed enrollment studies for Center Grove and Clark-Pleasant schools last year, expects stable overall enrollment for Center Grove.

And the school district should expect to see overall growth of about 3 percent over the next decade, she said.

“There is going to be variation over time, but in the long run I think stability is the picture for Center Grove,” she said.

Brudvig also projects continued growth for Clark-Pleasant schools, though not nearly as much as it used to experience. And another local district expects its enrollment to hold steady, with mixed financial results.

Franklin had a demographic study done by Indiana University between five and 10 years ago that projected growth for the school district in 2012, but that was before the recession and before the flood.

Executive director of finance Jeff Mercer isn’t expecting any major dips in enrollment, but he doesn’t foresee any spikes either.

While steady enrollment numbers mean Franklin won’t lose money from the state, it also doesn’t guarantee the district will have enough as costs such as utilities and medical prices rise, he said.

“There’s no growth here, at all, until something turns around,” Mercer added.

Projecting yearly enrollment is difficult largely because school districts don’t always know how many kindergartners they can expect from year to year.

Brudvig projected Center Grove’s enrollment would rise from 7,595 students by 100. But she also told the school district the number of students could climb as high as 7,840, or drop by 35.

So while her base forecast was off by about 1.5 percent, which is more than she and the school district would have liked, it still was within the projected range.

Center Grove’s kindergarten numbers dropped last year, likely because the school district still charged for its full-day program. Center Grove saw its largest number of kindergartners ever this year, but last year’s drop meant a smaller-than-expected first-grade class, Brudvig said.

Also, while the housing market, which bottomed out in 2009, is beginning to rebound, it will take a few years before Center Grove feels the effect.

Once it does, the school district should be back on track for reaching about 7,830 students by 2021, Brudvig said.

“It’ll catch up with itself, it’ll just take a while,” she said.

At Clark-Pleasant, while growth won’t be as high as the 300-plus new students the school district was seeing a decade ago, it still can expect 120 to 130 students each year. That’s largely because the large number of children born within the school district in 2007 and 2008 are now about ready to enroll in elementary school, Brudvig said.

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