Every August, a new school year starts and the public reads or sees reports about first day enrollment. Despite all the attention given to first day numbers by the public, one local school superintendent said last week the third quarter average enrollment is far more important.
“First day numbers make headlines,” Paris School Superintendent Wayne Fawcett said. “Third quarter average attendance makes money.”
School districts are funded primarily from property tax revenues and state money, called foundation funds. That state money is based on an average attendance for the first three quarters of the school year. And school districts don’t see that money until the following school year. For example, the Paris School District’s state money this year is based on its third quarter average attendance for the 2016-17 school year. The third quarter of the 2016-17 school year ended in late March.
“First day enrollment numbers are essentially meaningless,” Fawcett said. “On the first day, it’s all about who showed up. Now, we can predict first day numbers with about 90 percent to 95 percent accuracy. The really important number is the third quarter average. It’s called our average daily maintenance. That tells us how many are enrolled. That average is what our funding is based on for the next school year. We can predict that number with 98 percent to 99 percent accuracy after the 11th day of school.”
Why the 11th day? That’s because after day 10 of the school year, which is Monday, Aug. 28 this year, the district can drop students who may have been enrolled but haven’t shown up. For example, on the first day of school this year, Fawcett reported an enrollment of 1,056 students. However, after one week, that number was 1,047.
“As I expected, after the first week, we’ve dropped more students than we’ve added,” he said.
Also, the third quarter average can be different from first day numbers. For example, on the first day of the 2016-17 school year, Paris had an attendance of 1,050 students. However, it’s third quarter average was 1,068.81.
The state gives each school district in Arkansas $6,713 per student. That number can fluctuate year to year, too. Paris got a little more than $5 million for this school year, based on the third quarter average of last school year. That’s about 50 percent of the district’s $10 million budget. A significant amount. By way of contrast, the other significant funding source for school districts is property tax revenue. Paris is getting a little over $2 million in property tax revenue this year.
An even better way to look at enrollment is over a period of time. The Guy Fenter Educational Service Co-op, located next to County Line schools, serves 21 school districts in western Arkansas, including Paris, Scranton and County Line.
Over the last nine years, 13 of the 21 districts have lost students and the rest gained students, according to data provided to the Paris district by the co-op. According to the numbers, in the last nine years, Paris has lost 89.86 students.
“We’ve lost a good-sized graduating class over the last nine years,” Fawcett said.
Of the three districts in north Logan County, only the Scranton District has gained students over the last nine years. Scranton has gained nine students while County Line has lost 64 students.
In Logan County, the enrollment trend over the last nine years is worst for Booneville. Booneville has lost 237.45 students in the last nine years. Magazine has gained 1.53 students over the last nine years.
A notation on the data report points to a reason for the decline in the majority of districts.
“Although the majority of school districts in the co-op area have lost students, those students are still in our co-op area, but have moved closer to work in the Fort Smith-Greenwood area and in the Johnson County area,” the notation states.