Both the Cambridge and Deerfield school districts have seen a drop in student enrollment this year, which administrators say is tied to the Covid-19 pandemic.
In a trend that administrators say is not surprising, the drop is happening primarily because students are open enrolling out to other public school districts and leaving for private and home school options.
School districts across the state finalized their students enrollments on Sept. 18. That number is key in determining revenue limits for districts, the amount of state aid received by school district and in other calculations.
Mark Worthing, the Cambridge School District’s business manager, said Cambridge had 915 students as of Sept. 18. That’s down 13 students from 928 in September 2019.
Worthing said administrators were anticipating flat enrollment this year, but called the drop “not surprising.”
“It was kind of an unknown where we would end up, due to the pandemic,” Worthing said.
Cambridge also saw a drop in its summer school enrollment, which affects the official enrollment count. Cambridge canceled its June summer school sessions, then held virtual July summer school and in-person Jump Start summer school in August.
As a result of the enrollment drop, Worthing said Cambridge now expects to receive about $51,000 less than projected from state and local sources in 2020-21, from a combination of lower state aid and lower anticipated property tax revenue due to having fewer students.
The total number of students in the district on Sept. 18 figures into a three-year rolling average used to determine the district’s revenue limit.
Cambridge said the increase in students open-enrolling out to other public school districts this year is about the same as those open-enrolling in. Those two numbers offset each other, Worthing said.
In 2020-21, 127 students have open-enrolled into the district, up from 99 in 2019-20. And 87 students have open-enrolled out in 2020-21, up from 67 in 2019-20.
Worthing said the overall decline may be due to Cambridge seeing fewer students in 4K, compared to previous years, as well as to other factors such as families choosing home school and private school. He did not have specific data on the number of families who chose those two latter options, nor information on whether familes might be choosing to opt out of 4K this year due to the pandemic.
Worthing said Cambridge is not the only public school district experiencing an overall enrollment drop this year.
“We weren’t down as much as maybe some other districts had been down,” Worthing said. “We don’t quite know what the impact of the pandemic is yet. It will impact us a bit financially, but not terribly.”
“The district will utilize areas of savings in other budgets to make up for the reduction in revenue,” Worthing added.
Deerfield School District Business Manager Doreen Treuden said its enrollment decreased by 34 from 2019-20, which means that Deerfield’s three-year average enrollment, which is used to calculate the revenue limit, decreased by 12 students.
Treuden said that the state of Wisconsin offers a “declining enrollment exemption” to school districts every year, to help them manage enrollment fluctuations.
Treuden said it is meant to delay the budget impact of lower enrollment, by giving school districts time to make budgetary changes.
Without it, Treuden said, Deerfield would have potentially faced a revenue decrease of around $128,000.
The budget impact of declining enrollment is delayed by a year, Treuden said. In the 2021-22 school year, if enrollment stays the same, or continues to decrease, Treuden said Deerfield could be facing a revenue shortfall after that exemption expires.
“The fear is that our enrollment that went down this current year, stays that way,” Treuden said. “We all want our enrollment to come back up.”
Director of Pupil Services Barb Callahan said at an Oct. 5 Committee of the Whole meeting that Deerfield saw a handful of students open enroll into other public school districts where in-person learning is being offered, and she said others were opting for homeschooling.