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Schools see shifting enrollment

WEST POINT — Earlier this year, schools officials realized they would need to make some changes to accommodate the larger number of students attending classes in the 2016-17 school year.

The 3.5 percent enrollment increase required a couple of more class periods be added to the schedule.

In the fall of 2015, 765 students enrolled at West Point Public Schools. This year, 792 students entered the schools hallways, said Laura Abel, West Point Public Schools superintendent.

The new students were spread more-or-less evenly between the grade levels, but two new class periods were required to accommodate new students at the high school. Each new class period costs at least $5,000, although the price can range upward based on experience of the teacher, Abel said.

"It's a large impact," Abel said.

Funds were built into the budget, and the schedule change wasn't a challenge to accommodate, she said.

A public school system's budget is set by the state according to number of enrolled students, so money increases or decreases relative to students. A master schedule of classes is created every year drawing on existing classes and enrollment projections, which tend to accurately represent actual enrollment, Abel said.

Projections for enrollment at a public school system are conducted by the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia.

The projection is made based on census estimates of residents aged 5 to 19 years old divided by the census estimate of total residents of a locality, then multiplied by the center's own estimation of the locality's total population. Sales tax revenue is then allocated accordingly to school divisions, according to the Virginia Department of Education.

Small shifts

Other schools in Tidewater are experiencing enrollment shifts as well.

In King & Queen, schools have steady enrollment figures from the last academic year. The total enrollment comes to 871 students across the locality's two elementary schools and one high school, said Carol Carter, King and Queen County Public Schools superintendent.

That's an eight-student decrease from the county's student population of 879 during the 2015-2016 academic year, according to the Virginia Department of Education.

However, within individual grade levels there can be a more pronounced ebb and flow as groups of students pass through the system. The senior class of 2017 numbers 27 students, a sizable drop from the class of 2016's 50 members, Carter said.

Divergent group sizes don't have a large budgetary impact, in part because groups of students tend not to lose members as they go through grade levels and can be planned in advance, Carter said.

A growing county

New Kent County Public Schools anticipated an increase at its schools and got it, growing to 3,108 students from the 3,042 students enrolled in the 2015-2016 academic year. The county's population is increasing, so it makes sense to see a larger enrollment, said David Myers, New Kent superintendent.

The increase was felt most keenly, but unexpectedly, at George Watkins Elementary School, which went from 673 to 702 students, Myers said.

While the hope for unanticipated enrollment increases is for the new faces to be spread evenly across grade levels at a school, the kindergarten took the lions share with 18 new students, Myers said. The class size of the five classes on the kindergarten level jumped from 19 to 22.

With the budget set after the influx of kindergarten admissions late in the summer, teachers have to do their best to accommodate extra students. An additional instructional aide was brought aboard by the school to help ensure staff can more easily provide students enough individual attention. An instructional aide costs about $20,000 for a school year, Myers said.

Myers said New Kent's rapid population growth can make the process of anticipating student enrollment difficult, though the county's estimations are correct more often than not. The Quinton area, due to its proximity to Richmond, is one area that has seen rapid growth. George Watkins Elementary School is located in Quinton.

A message left with King William Public Schools office last week wasn't returned before publication.

Jacobs can be reached by phone at 757-298-6007.

School system enrollment


2015-2016: 765

2016-2017: 792

King and Queen

2015-2016: 879

2016-2017: 871

New Kent

2015-2016: 3,042

2016-2017: 3,108

King William

2015-2016: 2,246

2016-2017: unavailable

Source: Virginia Department of Education

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