The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

June 28, 2011

School officials worried about potential enrollment shifts

By Roger McKinney
news@joplinglobe.com

JOPLIN, Mo. — Joplin-area school superintendents say they are not exactly sure how enrollment at their schools will be affected in the wake of the May 22 tornado.

But they are worried.

Area superintendents will meet privately today in Joplin to try to find ways to get a better idea as to how enrollment numbers will change.

A CHALLENGE

Joplin school officials estimate that 54 percent of the district’s 7,700 students were in the path of the tornado. Superintendent C.J. Huff has said all are welcome in Joplin schools when classes resume on Aug. 17, regardless of where their parents have moved. Presumably, some parents will enroll their children in the district where they now live.

“It’s challenging,” said Ashley Micklethwaite, Joplin Board of Education president. “We don’t have any firm numbers, and we won’t.”

To try to get a better idea of August enrollment numbers, the school district has prominently displayed on its website — joplinschools.org — its Joplin Schools Enrollment and Attendance Survey. Micklethwaite said officials are encouraging parents to complete the survey.

“We’re being proactive,” she said. “Hopefully we won’t have any big surprises in August.”

Superintendents in neighboring districts also are in the dark in terms of firm enrollment numbers.

“I don’t have a good number right now,” said Carl Junction Superintendent Phil Cook when he was asked about his sense of the enrollment figure and the potential for an increase. “It could be 50; it could be a couple hundred.”

Cook said between 12 and 20 parents have called to ask about enrolling in the district.

“Right now, it’s just speculation,” he said.

UNIQUE SITUATION

Tony Rossetti, Webb City superintendent, said he also doesn’t have an idea about enrollment numbers in his district.

“I don’t think people know where they’re going to be until the dust settles,” he said. He said some districts neighboring Joplin may experience enrollment spikes that may last a school year or longer, or some of the increase could be permanent.

“The uniqueness of the situation has created some interesting avenues we have to explore,” Rossetti said.

At this point, there appears to be limited impact on enrollment in the Carthage School District, said Deborah Swarens, assistant superintendent for instruction.

The district is getting some new students from Joplin, but not many, she said.

“I think we’ve had five so far, and we don’t expect any drastic increase,” she said. “We’re hoping they’re able to stay in Joplin, and we support Joplin’s effort to make that happen.”

She said the district has allowed some early enrollment as a result of inquiries.

Alma Stipp, assistant superintendent for the Neosho School District, said the district is conducting early enrollments in June and mid-July in an effort to determine how many students Neosho will absorb.

Stipp said her biggest concern is to maintain a good learning environment for students and to keep class sizes as small as possible. By tabulating enrollment as early as possible, she said, the district can be prepared and allow itself time to adjust to any spike in enrollment.

Steve Wilmoth, superintendent of Seneca schools, said the limited amount of available housing in Seneca should limit any increase in his district’s enrollment. He said the Seneca Chamber of Commerce informed him that there had been an increase in real estate activity, so he anticipates an increase in enrollment, but he isn’t sure to what degree.

“If kids show up, we’ll do our best to serve them,” he said.

Across the state line in Pittsburg, Kan., Superintendent Destry Brown said he has been contacted by about a dozen families that are transferring their children from Joplin. He said the transfer procedure is not complicated, and that Pittsburg’s schools are accustomed to receiving a number of new students each year because of parents moving to Pittsburg to study at Pittsburg State University.

FINANCIAL IMPLICATIONS

Both losing students, for the Joplin School District, and gaining students, for neighboring districts, would have financial implications.

The state funding formula for school districts is based in part on enrollment numbers. In Joplin, the average expenditure per average daily attendance is $7,274, according to figures from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Huff has said an enrollment decline and a loss in assessed valuation likely will result in decreased revenue for the district.

While an enrollment increase may result in a revenue increase in neighboring districts, superintendents say it’s not a money-making prospect.

Rossetti, in Webb City, said increased enrollment brings with it increased costs in staffing and building space.

“We just want to serve families that are displaced,” said Cook, in Carl Junction. “The other thing is if we do happen to see a couple of hundred students come to Carl, we need to look at staffing.”



STAFF WRITERS Susan Redden and Josh Letner contributed to this report.