Friday, August 23, 2013

You can’t handle the enrollment numbers

I emailed the school district last night to ask if anyone could tell me how many students are now enrolled. School has been in session for three days, and all the students have been assigned to classrooms, so they must know how many there are, right?

I received a message back telling me that the official counts don’t occur until October 1. I replied:
Thanks -- I know the official count comes in October, but would it be possible to say how many kids there were on opening day (and to compare that to last year’s opening day)? I would think the district must know, since all the kids had to be assigned to particular classrooms.

It’s our first opportunity to get an (admittedly limited) sense of whether the consultants’ capacity projections are borne out by actual enrollment figures. Since the facilities plan is a big topic of discussion in the board election, I’d hate to have to wait until October if there is even preliminary information available before September 10.
The superintendent replied:
In order to ensure that conversations about enrollment are consistent we use the official state counts for all public discussion. As with past years, our numbers will continue to fluctuate between now and the official count as new students arrive and students who have left are unenrolled. Releasing information prior to the official count has generated significant confusion in past years. To address that confusion we adopted a practice of using the official state enrollment count for all public discussion. We will release those numbers, disaggregated by school, when they are finalized. Prior to that date we will contain our conversations about enrollment numbers to estimated changes in the aggregate (District and/ or school grade range including elementary, junior high school, and high school).
So they have the information, but won’t tell us, because they’re afraid we’ll be confused? I’m not saying the district has something to hide, but this kind of paternalism drives me crazy. They need to stop treating the voters like children who have to be constantly managed for their own good. (They need to stop treating the children that way, too.) People are capable of understanding if counts are “preliminary” or “as of a certain date.” If “people might be confused” were a sufficient reason to withhold information, think how much could be withheld.

I also understand that the count would shed only limited light on the accuracy of the consultants’ projections (which is true of the October numbers, too). Still, you would think that the one-year-out projection would, if anything, be more accurate than those for later years. The enrollment numbers are important because the consultants’ high-end projection was part of the justification for all the district’s planned spending and construction, and for the closure of Hoover School as well. The opening-day count, especially as compared to last year’s, is a piece of information that would be useful to the public in the discussion of issues leading up to the election of school board members. It’s particularly unseemly for the district to withhold information at a time when people are exercising their right to oversee the very people who are withholding the information.

Enough with the paternalism.


Matt Townsley said...

Is there a history of community members confusing enrollment numbers?

Chris said...

Matt -- It's news to me. Even if there were, the district should address the problem by (1) making sure it communicates clearly, and (2) tolerating some lack of control over how the numbers are discussed, for the sake of transparency.

I also question whether the district has used the October counts "for all public discussion." As I recall, during the facilities discussion, there was some variation in the numbers used in different reports, and it was explained by the fact that the measurements were taken at different points in the year. Everyone survived.

Mandy said...

Next we'll be shopping in the company store, you know, so we're not confused.

Anonymous said...

In following this issue with our school it is starting to really concern me that these things are coming out into the public. Very much so.

Director Dorau suggested approval of the summer projects ASAP and be requested at the first July meeting. Director Dorau also suggested that the board look at small schools with declining enrollment for the board to evaluate if these buildings are cost effective to maintain. Directors discussed the SFIP as a potential retreat topic.



Director Cooper distributed to Directors an estimated annual savings report on closing Hills Elementary. Hills Elementary cost $8,926 per student to operate, factoring in expenses including labor and transportation. Directors agree Hills is by far the most costly elementary school to operate in the cash strapped district and most agree they must do something. Directors spoke in favor of closing Hills if another solution cannot be found. In the here and now, if the district took the newer-fewer-bigger approach. Director Dorau also noted it is the Boards responsibility to maintain the district’s quality of education and not to maintain the town’s viability. Director Klouda noted in the absence of a workable alternative, I am supportive of closing Hills as it a cannot continue as it exists today.


Chris said...

Anonymous -- Thanks for commenting. I know that Tuyet Dorau has in the past expressed a willingness to close smaller elementaries for cost reasons. It's fair for people to question whether she is a Johnny-Come-Lately to the idea of keeping existing schools open. It's also possible that she has in fact changed her view on the issue, or that she at least recognizes the importance of public buy-in enough to make her question whether this particular closure is merited by the data.

At the same time, many of the people who are criticizing Dorau for being inconsistent on the issue of preserving existing schools are themselves now supporting the candidates who seem most on board for the closure of Hoover. Isn't that also inconsistent?