By Jerome Tharaud/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Enrollment numbers in Havre Public Schools have remained steady this year, signaling a respite from the enrollment decline of the past several years.
An enrollment count taken earlier this week was averaged with a count taken in October to calculate the change in the number of students from last year.
This year, between the October and February counts, the average in grades K through 8 is 1,302 students, compared with 1,282 last year. The average in grades 9 through 12 is 704 students, compared with 719 last year. Those figures represent the "average number belonging," a number calculated by first compensating for students like kindergartners, who are funded at half the rate of full-time students, and then plugging the number of students into a formula.
HPS Superintendent Kirk Miller said Wednesday that this year marks the first since he became superintendent eight years ago that there has been a net increase in students from one year to the next.
"Our enrollment has stabilized," Miller said. "I believe that means our economy in Havre has stabilized also. People are staying here." He said the increased Border Patrol presence in Havre and more business at the Holiday Village Shopping Center may have contributed to that.
A gain of 20 students in the elementary district and a loss of 15 in the high school means a net gain of five students.
The amount of state education dollars HPS receives in the 2004-2005 school year will be partly based on the enrollment numbers. After a basic entitlement amount of about $200,000 for the high school district and about $20,000 for the elementary district, the district receives money for each enrolled student. The first student in grades K through 6 qualifies the district to receive $4,031, and the amount decreases 20 cents for each additional student until a cap is reached.
Students in grades 7 through 12 are funded at the high school rate. The district receives $5,371 for the first student funded at that rate, and that amount decreases 50 cents for each additional student until a cap is reached.
Miller said the budget picture for next year is not available at this time, but that the enrollment increase will help.
"It's positive to know that we're not facing declines in budget authority for the ensuing year," Miller said, adding that the increase won't erase the effects of inflation and increased utilities costs next year.
"But it doesn't appear we'll have to be reducing the budget because of declining enrollment as we have in the past eight years," he said.
The steady enrollment seems to indicate a stable population, but statistics tracking students entering and leaving the district suggest a much more fluid picture.
Between Sept. 5 and Jan. 6, according to the district's transiency statistics, 268 students left Havre Public Schools and 265 new students came in. In a district with a student population of about 2,000, that means a turnover of about 13 percent. In 2000, Miller said, there was a turnover of about 15 percent.
According to the statistics, about 53 percent of students who left the district this fall enrolled in another public school more than 50 miles from Havre, or outside the state. The majority of those relocated to schools inside Montana.
About 18 percent of the students relocated to a Havre-area reservation.
Miller said a high transiency rate adds an additional factor to the district's efforts to comply with No Child Left Behind, President Bush's sweeping education reform policy.
"The challenge is that with No Child Left Behind legislation, we'll be required to test some students that haven't been involved with our curriculum and our school district for a very long period of time," he said. By the same token, another school district will be responsible for the test scores of students who leave Havre.
"It's a great challenge," Miller said.