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School count shows decline

October 09, 2013 - School officials for Lake Orion Schools counted 7,506 students in attendance on Wednesday, October 2, about 81 students down from last year.

Ninety percent of LOCS state funding depended on the Oct 2 count, with the other ten percent coming from a count in February 2014.

The loss of students means that Lake Orion will see about a $642,000 reduction in state funding per pupil. The district receives $7,877 per pupil.

This is the fourth year the district has seen a drop and John Fitzgerald, assistant superintendent for business and finance for the district, said the main reason is the current state of Orion Township's demographics.

"Then it's compounded by the economics of the last five years," he continued. "We have more people moving out, and we are seeing some more moving in, but every district has move in, move out balance."

LOCS uses Stanfred Consultants, a firm created by two Michigan State University professors that has provided enrollment projections for educational organizations for the last 36 years.

Frederick R. Ignatovich, PhD, the principle consultant, has provided over 4,450 enrollment projections for local and intermediate school districts in Michigan.

Ignatovich uses residential birth data collected from the Michigan Department of Community Health and enrollment data from the Michigan Department of Education to make his projections. He also studied data collected from the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, SEMCOG, to determine local demographic, housing and economic conditions.

Two details he zeroed in on to determine potential increase of enrollment for LOCS were the trend in new building permits and birth rates of the area from the last decade.

In 2000, the number of births for Oakland County was 16,253. In 2005 the number was 14,612, and in 2010 it had dropped to 13,079.

In 2011 the county saw the first growth in birth rates from resident mothers in a number of years, at 13,346.

The estimate for 2012 was 13,238 births, and for 2013 is 13,252.

"Projecting births is a very difficult task, there are some opinions that during 2005-09, a period of severe economic downtown, there was considerable out-migration of people," Ignatovich said. Usually the people affected most are the younger people, who have the greatest potential to have children, even if they only have one."

Although birth trends were declining a few years ago, the trend has pretty much stabilized, he said, because birth rates are now lower in general.

Another indicator for enrollment projection is observing the trend of new house development.

"The single best indicator of producing homes with children, is not condos, not multiple- family buildings, but single family homes, they are the most powerful indicators of having children in the home," he said.

"There's been some increase in single family, and also recently there's been an increase in multiple, and during the last five year period there's been an increase of total housing units within Orion township," he said.

The boom for housing development within the township was in 1996, with 522 new building permits. By 2006 that number was 64, and in 2009 only five new building permits were issued.

As of August, 2013, Orion Township saw a total of 40 new single-family building permits. If pro-rated, that could be in the neighborhood of around 60 new homes built by the end of this year, he said.

"You have more housing stock when you add 60, 70 single-family homes, and even though they produce (on average) less than one child per home, when you add them up that's the source of increased children," he said.

Since 2009 there has been a steady increase in new building permits, and the potentiality is increasing with the announced plans for 747 new homes coming to Orion.

"That's the big thing on the horizon and how many kids that will produce," Fitzgerald said. "When we see babies born and building permits pulled, that's when we can get a higher comfort level of what is coming in."

Ignatovich said his notes for Orion Township housing development back in 2006 to 2009 were for worst-case scenarios, including a decline in new housing and that new subdivisions were on a freeze.

"Move it up to 2011 and we have new homes, some upturn, some benefit from the economy improving, expecting some degree of growth in the new homes, existing homes were moving if the pricing was right," he said. "This last year we have some new home upturn in building permits, and also Pulte homes developing," he said.

In the last few years foreclosure rates have also declined, he said.

What does all of this mean?

"It's a positive, sign, but don't sell the farm on that," Ignatovich said.

Lake Orion administrators are continuing to talk about creative ways to make up for the reduction of state funding, including current and future ideas.

"From a strategy point of view the district is looking at Schools of Choice as a tool to keep the population stable so we don't have to dismantle key educational programming as a lack of funding," Fitzgerald said.

Schools of Choice brought in 57 students this year out of the 175 open slots for kindergarten through second grade. Whether SOC will be expanded to include more grades is currently under discussion.

The administration is also currently discussing self-funding possibilities, such as opening LOCS assets to out of district students.

"We are a top tier district and we intend to stay there, it's just what path do we choose to maintain that," Fitzgerald said.

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