As the Oregon-Davis School Board considers the school corporation’s financial future, one challenge school officials will have to address is declining enrollment. Since the 2008-2009 school year, enrollment has dropped from 713.5 students down to 555. Based on kindergarten enrollment trends, that number’s expected to drop down to 511 over the next five years.
During a school board work session Wednesday, Superintendent Dr. Don Harman said those figures are impacted by Starke County’s low birthrate, as well as the state’s open enrollment system. “Over the summer, we had 63 students leave,” he said. “Out of those 63, we had 38 who just left. Their comment was they moved out of the district or out of the state. We had eight students just leave the state. We also had 10 that moved due to employment. We had seven for opportunities. Five left because they were unhappy.”
He said about 126 children who live in Oregon and Davis townships currently attend school at John Glenn. Meanwhile, some residents in attendance were concerned that parents were pulling their kids out of Oregon-Davis when they reached the junior/senior high level.
However, open enrollment has also been working in O-D’s favor. Harman said a quarter of the corporation’s students now live outside the district, and 75 new students have begun attending O-D this school year.
He said all school districts in the state are actively recruiting students, and Oregon-Davis is no exception. “Since I’ve been here, we’ve tried to really promote communication,” he explained. “It’s so easy for parents and community members or whoever to get on Facebook and just bash any school district. What I’ve tried to do is promote and promote and promote the positive things we’re doing.”
Harman said the corporation’s agriculture program is a big draw, and O-D continues to partner with other schools to offer career and technical programs. Students can now also choose from several additional online courses through a digital learning program called Apex. Beyond academics, Harman said another big reason families choose to transfer their children to Oregon-Davis is because of its perceived safety.
What makes enrollment such a big concern is that the number of students a school has helps determine how much money it gets from the state. But Harman said that all depends on where the students are during the fall count. “September 15, that’s the magic date. We could have a family of five that moved to Michigan City and they don’t like it and they move back on October 1. We don’t get that money. What also happens is this: if I ran a private school, I could say, ‘Hey, come to me!’ and then on September 16, say ‘You know what? You’re just not going to work out here. You just need to go back home.’ And they go back to the home school, and that private school keeps the money.”
Harman projects that Oregon-Davis would need to have 615 students on each count date for the next eight years, in order to break even with state funding. As an alternative, the school board is exploring the possibility of a property tax referendum next year, to replace a tax increase that’s set to expire in 2019.