THE FIGHT FOR STUDENTS
It’s no secret that declining enrollments are the bane of all public school districts in Wisconsin. A big segment of the state of Wisconsin’s shared revenue formula is based on student enrollment.
Make no mistake about it. Each student is worth about $6,800 in state aids so if a school district gains say 10 students, that’s an extra $68,000 in revenue. Remember, that increase of 10 is most likely spread around throughout a district, meaning one extra student in a particular classroom will likely not result in any appreciable additional costs. A teacher’s salary is the same whether he/she is teaching say 23 students or 24 students.
But, here’s the opposite side of that issue. If a teacher has 24 students and one leaves for whatever reason, the state aid goes down by about $6,800, or if 10 leave and they are spread out over all different classes, the district has $68,000 less revenue, but no real way to reduce the overhead. The teacher salary, utilities and the like is still there.
This is oversimplifying things but we think you can get the idea.
If a school district loses a few students a year, at some point there will have to be adjustments in staffing and that is not only painful but it can quickly affect the quality of education.
This is precisely why public and private schools alike are doing all kinds of things to retain and grow their student populations, and it’s why many in public schools are deeply concerned about parental choice programs that can take some of their students and resulting in less aids. Eventually that could turn into staff reductions.
So, where does all of this lead us today? Well, we saw an interesting story in the Janesville Gazette in recent days that we would have never dreamed of happening not that many years ago.
The Janesville district, deeply concerned about enrollments, has set aside $10,000 in its budget for promoting itself to neighboring districts and to new families moving in the area.
Janesville’s goal is to have a net increase of 50 students from the open enrollment program which allows parents to send their children to a school district different from the one in which they actually reside.
This school year, Janesville had a net increase of 178 students. That many students could mean additional staff would be needed to accommodate them, but it still means over $1.2 million in additional state aid. Now, compare that to neighboring Milton, a much smaller district, which this year lost 103 students, or about $700,000 in revenues.
The Janesville district is going to use the money to use the services of several consulting and marketing firms in an effort to promote the quality of their schools.
They are also going to use fliers, radio advertising, more internet visibility and other ways to get more students enrolled. And, all of the promotional work will be in both Spanish and English in order to attract every possible student.
The Watertown school district has seen some slippage in enrollments in recent years and that is a concern of school officials simply from a budget perspective.
Our community had lagged in construction of new housing in recent years and that is showing up in stagnant population trends. As we’ve said before, these level or dropping enrollment numbers are being felt in private schools as well as public schools, and more and more are coming up with public relations strategies to get more students.
We expect more districts will be taking more aggressive approaches to getting more students within their districts.
Who would have thought just a decade ago that we’d see this kind of effort to increase enrollments?
BIG MOVES FOR THE CITY
The concept of purchasing the block where our offices and several other businesses are located, is quickly turning into a reality, as can be seen by recent moves from the Watertown Redevelopment Authority with announcements this week.
That whole plan has been a bit below the radar in recent months but things have been happening internally, and more visible steps will be taken in the coming weeks and months. It won’t be long before all of the businesses, our offices included, will have a better understanding of what we can expect.
We continue to receive inquiries from interested people as to where we’ll be heading if our building is indeed acquired by the city for development purposes. That’s a good question and we really don’t have an answer. Until the negotiations get underway, probably sometime this summer, we really don’t have enough facts to even begin the search for a new location.
We’ve been at this location for decades and decades, and throughout our history we have been on Main Street, a location that seems appropriate, given the type of business we have, but then, you never know what the future holds. Stay tuned.