Saline Enrollment Report: More Students Leaving Than Coming
While some families are returning students to Saline Area Schools since the end of the pandemic, enrollment continues to be an issue, especially as nearby private schools attract students away from the public school district.
Superintendent Steve Laatsch reported on district enrollment at the July 11 Board of Education meeting.
District-wide, enrollment is down by 400 students since 2018-19. Enrollment was 5,149 in 2018-19. It had already started sliding in 2019-20, before the pandemic hit, and exacerbated the enrollment decrease. Enrollment in 2022-23 was pegged at 4,740, a decrease of 41 from the previous year. It was the smallest enrollment drop since the trend began. Laatsch said families who removed their children from school during the pandemic are beginning to bring them back to the district.
Still, projections show the district enrollment falling by 67 next year, 75 in 2024-25 and 90 in 2025-26. At some point, the district will have to turn that enrollment trend around or cut back o spending, since districts are mostly funded on a per-pupil basis by the state.
Laatsch said that he and new communications director Jackelyn Martin will begin work on a “master plan” to market the school district.
“We want to make sure that we are seen as that destination district that we have been for many years and to showcase what we have to offer as people are moving into the state,” Laatsch said.
He pointed to 200 new jobs at the Toyota facility as an opportunity.
“Obviously, we want to stabilize enrollment so we can continue to staff and provide to the wonderful services we need to provide our students,” Laatsch said. “If we do have to make cuts and reductions, how do we keep those cuts and reductions away from the students.”
The district’s enrollment drop mirrors what has been seen across the state.
In terms of schools of choice - a program that allows students to enroll in other public school districts - Saline still attracts more students than it loses, according to data provided by Laatsch. But when you add private schools and homeschooling to the mix, Saline is now losing more students than it attracts. In 2018-19, the number of Saline students enrolled elsewhere started climbing. By 2019-20, Saline was losing as many students as it was attracting. In 2020-21 and 2021-22, the loss of students accelerated and is now beyond the number of students Saline attracts.
Laatsch expects that disparity to close because the district got many students back before last year. But, “regardless, we have had 300 to 550 kids that are going elsewhere and that pattern has existed for some time.”
Laatsch said the district is trying to understand where those students are going while trying to determine how to provide the best education for the vast majority of the students.
“Public schools in general are not going to be able to meet the needs of every student,” Laatsch said. Laatsch said the district isn’t able to support homeschooling and religious education.
“At the same time, we’re going to do everything we can to show the public school option in Saline is the best option for the vast majority of our students.”
A deeper dive into the numbers shows that Saline continues to take more students from other districts than it loses.
The most drastic example shows 146 Lincoln Consolidated Schools in Saline Area Schools, with only one Lincoln student going the other way.
Another data report Laatsch shared shows an average of 15 students per grade level leaving the district each year, while attracting 26 students per year from other districts.
With schools of choice, the district should break even this next year, according to Laatsch’s projection.
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