Minnesota schools look to stabilize population losses
When Stephen and Argyle consolidated in 1996, the school had 420 students. Now, it has 346. Bad news, huh? That depends on the perspective. Losing 74 students in 15 years is a big hit financially since state aid is based on pupil numbers. But it'...
When Stephen and Argyle consolidated in 1996, the school had 420 students. Now, it has 346.
Bad news, huh?
That depends on the perspective. Losing 74 students in 15 years is a big hit financially since state aid is based on pupil numbers. But it's a glancing blow compared with anticipated enrollment.
S-A High School Principal Mark Kroulik explained: "Ten years ago, we projected that our enrollment would be less than 300 by now. Stability for us is not going down as fast as we thought we would."
The school's enrollment of 346 is the exact number as a year ago. It's representative of the slight enrollment movement in northwest Minnesota. The K-12 enrollment of 28 schools in the northwestern corner is 15,840, a 1.1 percent drop from a year ago.
A strong farm economy is Kroulik's explanation for Stephen-Argyle's enrollment exceeding expectations.
"We have some new families in the district and they're largely alumni moving home," he said. "The farm economy means younger adults with kids are moving back."
Based on the projections, S-A's enrollment is expected to erode further, but again "not as fast as we had thought earlier," Kroulik said.
Fertile-Beltrami, with 452 students in K-12, is another school with the same September enrollment as a year ago. When Brian Clarke took over as superintendent for the 2004-05 school year, the district had 523 students, 71 more than today.
"Losing seventy-some students is a pretty significant drop," Clarke said. "But we've stabilized a little over the last two years. And projections were that we'd be down a few more than we are."
Clarke credits avoiding more dramatic enrollment losses to his school's course offerings and the jobs available in the region. Fertile has "a significant number of folks" who commute to Fargo, Grand Forks, Thief River Falls and Crookston for work, he said.
However, superintendents agree, smaller families will mean a continual yet gradual enrollment drop.
East Grand Forks lost 24 students, about a 1.5 percent drop from last year. Superintendent David Pace is expecting a similar annual decline over the next few years.
"As we budget ahead, we're anticipating a 1 percent decline as a trend," Pace said. "We're seeing classes of 135 to 145 graduating and (kindergarten) classes of 125 to 135 coming in. We see 3-4 consecutive years of a decline of 10 to 15 students."
The declines came despite a growing city population. The 2010 census put EGF's population at 8,601, a 14.7 percent increase from 2000. However, 2010's number is still about 50 shy of the 1990 census. The fluctuations are a result of a dramatic population loss from the 1997 flood.
"We've held enrollment pretty well because there are jobs here," Pace said. "But, overall, the population is aging and people are not having as many children as before.
"Even though the Grand Forks-East Grand Forks total population may be growing, our school population isn't growing nearly as fast. In these times, you need growth in population to keep enrollment stable."
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