Schools see differing enrollment trends

Published 8:00 pm Sunday, May 6, 2012

Both the Lincoln County and Brookhaven school districts have seen growth over the last decade, but Brookhaven has experienced more recent contraction that district leaders have been encouraged to address.

     In the 2002-03 school year, both Brookhaven and Lincoln County districts were below 3,000 students in their enrollment totals reported for September of that school year. Records with the Mississippi Department of Education indicate both districts steadily increased to above 3,000 until 2005, when Brookhaven peaked.

     Brookhaven has since fallen below its 2002 levels, while Lincoln County has reported relatively stable numbers.

     “Every year we see growth,” said Lincoln County Superintendent Terry Brister.

     Brister reported some grades at some district schools that are at or near capacity, with elementary grades more likely to be topped out.

     Brookhaven Superintendent Dr. Lisa Karmacharya said she’s not been able to identify a cause for the enrollment declines.

     “I don’t know where they’re going,” Karmacharya said. “Lots of things impact your enrollment.”

     In the 2002-03 school year, the Lincoln County School District recorded a total enrollment of 2,826. In the 2010-11 school year, Lincoln County had a total district enrollment of 3,006, according to data compiled by the Mississippi Department of Education.

     The state has no records yet for the 2011-12 school year, but Brister said enrollment was approximately 3,100.

     In Brookhaven, during the 2002-03 school year, the district recorded a total enrollment of 2,993.

     Despite a high in 2005 of 3,144, Brookhaven’s reported enrollment in the 2010-11 school year was 2,941.

     By April of the 2011-12 school year, district leaders report an enrollment of 2,892.

     Numbers reported by the Mississippi Department of Education only reflect enrollment as of September, and district leaders warned this can be misleading. Brister estimated that from the beginning of one school year to the end of that same school year, enrollment can fluctuate significantly.

     Susan Quin, director of finance for the Brookhaven district, also said excessive student absences can affect whether a student is counted as enrolled or not.

     Brister said his district’s growth has primarily come from students transferring to the district from regional counties.

     “For a year or two, we noticed we were getting more requests,” Brister said. “Then it came a flood.”

     Brister said the Lincoln County district could have much higher enrollment numbers than it does by granting more transfer requests. The district has to ensure that it can meet the needs of Lincoln County students first, though, and must be selective about transfer requests, Brister said.

     As to the downward trend of Brookhaven’s numbers, Karmacharya does not believe private schools are draining students from her district.

     “There is a myth that the city schools have lost students to the private schools,” Karmacharya said. “Over the last five years, we have not lost any to the private schools.”

     A consultant hired to evaluate the Brookhaven School District recommended the school take action to address the loss of students.

     Gary Bailey presented board members with a report in March that focused primarily on the district’s infrastructure, but noted, “The district has lost approximately 96 students over the last five years. Steps need to be taken to retain students and to draw others to the community.”

     Student enrollment and attendance affects the amount appropriated to school districts through the Mississippi Adequate Education Program.