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Schools up 154 students

Skilling credits global focus, lack of cuts

October 06, 2010 - Good news for Oxford Community Schools – the district's student population is continuing to grow by leaps and bounds, while those around it shrink.

Based on the Sept. 29 Count Day, the number of students increased by 153.83 since last September's count, according to Deputy Superintendent Nancy Kammer.

"I attribute it to the fact that we are one of the few districts in the state that hasn't been cutting student programs," said Superintendent Dr. William Skilling. "When we hear from parents that are looking at our district, that has been a big factor."

Skilling indicated the district's focus on "preparing kids for the global market," learning world languages and the orchestra program have all been "very attractive to parents."

The district's total student population now stands at 4,768.95. That's up 113.2 from the February count.

The reason for the decimal point is some students, such as those in the early childhood program and special education, don't count as full-time students because they don't attend every day or they attend only part of the day, Kammer noted.

Most of the growth came from the approximately 200 Schools of Choice students who enrolled this year.

Schools of Choice students reside in other districts, but chose to attend Oxford for various reasons.

"These numbers indicate that without the Schools of Choice (students), Oxford enrollment would (have) shown a decline from last year's numbers," Kammer wrote in an e-mail.

"Because we've invested in our student programs, created new opportunities and eliminated things like pay-to-play (sports), that has been a strong magnet to attract families to our community," Skilling said.

The biggest student increases were in first-graders (up 75) and high school freshmen (up 62.85). The largest decreases were in kindergartners (down 57.15) and second-graders (down 46.02).

Student populations at individual schools are as follows – Oxford High School 1,452.8; Oxford Middle School 1,040; Clear Lake Elementary 565; Oxford Elementary 453; Lakeville Elementary 438; Daniel Axford Elementary 433; Leonard Elementary 268; Crossroads for Youth 60.3; Crossing Bridges Alternative School 40; and Early Childhood program 18.85.

All of these count numbers are considered preliminary and won't be finalized until the end of October.

These figures may fluctuate slightly as students who had excused absences on Count Day have 30 calendar days to return to school, while students with unexcused absences have 10 school days to return.

Oxford's certainly in a different situation than most other school districts that are losing students left and right.

Lapeer Community Schools reported losing 154 students, while Brandon lost about 35 pupils. Goodrich lost 43 students.

Because the amount of funding the school district receives from the state is dependent on student enrollment, more students equals more funding.

How much funding Oxford receives from the state is based on the "blended count," which is a combination of 75 percent of the September student count and 25 percent of the February count. Based on the current numbers, it appears Oxford's blended count will increase by 189 students.

Exactly how much additional revenue that will translate into is unclear at this point because the district isn't sure what its foundation allowance is going to be, according to Loock. All the infusions of federal dollars (see related story on Page 1) have "muddied thing up," he explained.

One thing's clear, Oxford is going to get more money due to its larger student population and that will prepare it for the future.

"I'm happy to see the growth because that's going to help grow our savings account in order to put us in a position to handle the next two years," Skilling said.

As of June 30, the district's fund balance was $5.84 million. A fund balance is basically a government entity's savings account used to cover unexpected expenses, pay for special projects and offset revenue losses.

Skilling said the district will need its fund balance to get through the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years, which have been dubbed the "cliff years."

They're called "cliff years" because there's no more federal funding on the horizon to help schools (which amounts to a $342 per student loss, according to Skilling), property tax revenues are expected to continue declining by double-digit percentages and the retirement rate could go as high as 26 percent on the dollar. No one knows how the state is going to fix the lack of school funding due to these factors.

Having such a large fund balance will prevent Oxford from having to cut student programs over the next two years, something most other districts will have "no choice" but to do, according to Skilling.

This will make Oxford more attractive to parents and students. "We'll become even more of an anomaly," Skilling said.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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