Source: Sherman Publications

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Brandon School enrollment sags
District numbers dwindle by 187 in Oct. count

by Susan Bromley

October 09, 2013

Brandon Twp.- For the past two years, the school district has suffered the loss each fall of about 90 students. This year, that number has doubled.

"We are down 187 students from last year at this time," said Superintendent Lorrie McMahon on Wednesday. "That is twice what we anticipated. It's pretty harsh."

Count day was Oct. 2. The decline in students is a crippling blow to the district's budget, equating to a $1.3 million loss in state foundation allowance. The district receives about $7,000 per-pupil in funding. McMahon said the news means that reductions that were taken this year, including elimination of central office staff positions as well as a 7.5 percent wage cut for teachers and other Brandon Education Association members, were "absolutely essential."

The student losses were seen across the board, McMahon said, but most were resident students. The district lost about 40 schools of choice students, which she suspects may be in large part due to a change in state law that no longer requires failing districts to provide busing to resident students who wish to attend school elsewhere. Oxford School District opted to send a bus to pick students up from Walton Charter Academy in Pontiac, while the Brandon School Board decided this summer to not offer transportation to out of district students.

"Oxford picked up students that would have come here," said McMahon. "Oxford's gain is another public school's loss."

Besides the decrease in high school students, another significant loss is in the youngest students. The district currently has just 163 kindergarteners, the lowest number in at least 20 years. This decline is happening across the state as the birth rate falls. A graph from the Michigan Department of Community Health shows the annual birth rate held steady at about 134,000 from 1996-1999, and spiked to nearly 136,000 in 2000, but dropped nearly every year since, with sharp declines showing from about 2006, when the annual birth rate was around 127,000 to 2010, when it dipped below 115,000. That number held to 2011, the last year for which data was available on the graph.

Brandon may be getting less of a share of the dwindling numbers of kindergarteners, too, McMahon said, because few jobs in the area and lack of affordable housing does not attract young families to the area.

The district hopes to soon have answers to where other resident students across the remaining grades have gone. Statewide, a reporting process can tell whether a student from Brandon has moved, or still resides in the area and has chosen to enroll in another district. McMahon expects the results by the end of the month.

With the new count, the district has about 3,000 students. Enrollment for resident students peaked in 2001, with 3,539 students. Since that time, the number of in-district students has been dropping, although enrollment was bolstered by schools of choice students, which continued to grow until this year. The district has lost about 700 resident students in the past 12 years, McMahon said.