School enrollment resumes decline
by Rob Poggenklass · News · October 18, 2006

Trend doesn’t match superintendent’s expectations

After a brief upward bend last year, enrollment at the West Branch Community School District has fallen once again, continuing a seven-year decline.

Head count enrollment, the official tally performed by school officials, is 802.3 for the 2006-07 school year. The number is down about 15 students from last year and down about 95 students from 2000-01 — a 10.6 percent drop in six years.

The certified enrollment, the number reported to the state for funding purposes, is 772.7 — down nearly nine students from 781.5 last year. It’s also down nearly 57 students from a high of 829.5 in the 1999-2000 school year.

“That’s not what I was expecting at all,” said Superintendent Craig Artist. “All these houses going up, and our numbers are going down. I think it’s the funniest phenomenon I’ve seen.”

The district receives $5,160 from the state for each certified student enrolled at the district. A decline of 8.8 students means the district will not receive $45,408 that it would have received if enrollment had stayed the same. One new teacher at the district typically makes between $24,500 and $26,000 per year.

Both the certified and head count enrollments were accepted by a 4-0 vote of the West Branch School Board last Thursday. Board member Richard Paulus was absent from the meeting.

There are 43 students who open-enrolled into the West Branch Community School District for the 2006-07 year, while 45.4 students open-enrolled out, according to the district’s certified budget enrollment summary. Another seven students are counted as “tuitioned-out resident students,” and are included in the number submitted to the state for funding.

The decline in enrollment comes despite a kindergarten class head count of 63, up from just 51 students a year ago. But the growing kindergarten is nearly offset by a decline at the preschool, where the district counted 42 students, compared to 52 last year.

At a school board meeting last Thursday, Board President Steve Nash directed attention to the larger kindergarten class, and away from the declining enrollment of the district as a whole.

“I’m looking for positives here,” Nash said. “The kindergarten class is big, compared to last year. Hopefully that’s a positive trend.”

In the certified count, there are 67 kindergarten students and three preschoolers. Only 5-year-old preschoolers are reported to the state for funding purposes.

The graduating class of 2006 had 54 students. This year’s senior class has 66 students.

The high school is the only of the three schools to show an uptick in enrollment. The number of students at WBHS increased from 245 last year to 258 this year.

Hoover Elementary fell six students, 337 to 331, and the middle school dropped 12 students, from 183 to 171.

According to the district’s official head count enrollment summary, girls outnumber boys in West Branch schools, 411.3 to 391. The number of girls includes three partially dual-enrolled students.


For at least the second year in a row, the West Branch School Board cited communication with the public as its No. 1 area to improve, in a self-evaluation completed by board members.

At its regular meeting last Thursday, Oct. 12, Board President Steve Nash posed virtually the same question as he posed at a Sept. 28, 2005 meeting, after the school board had come to a similar conclusion about communication.

“How do we do it better?” Nash asked.

The board looked to its newest member, Mike Owen, for help with a problem that continues to elude them. Owen, a former publisher of the West Branch Times who emphasized his communication skills in his campaign this fall, said he was in favor of communicating with the public in newer, more effective ways. Owen cited this newspaper as a primary means to achieve the goal.

In the past, the district has relied on occasional guest columns from Superintendent Craig Artist, in addition to the Times’ regular news coverage. Without slighting Artist, board members suggested that a change might be in order — the members themselves will begin writing occasional columns for the Times about what’s happening in the district.

Also at Thursday’s meeting, the board:

• Approved, 4-0, the hiring of Veenstra & Kimm for the engineering of a parking lot resurfacing project at West Branch High School, to take place next spring. The company’s bid was $31,000, and does not include the materials required for resurfacing the lot.

• Received an update from Artist on the Hoover Elementary playground, which is still not open. Several corrections have been made, but a slide in the playground is still not to specifications, and additional cement must be poured as well.

Repairing the mistakes at the playground has cost roughly $15,000, but Artist said the project would not have moved forward without the sacrifice.

“We wouldn’t have gotten anything done if we’d have sat around pointing fingers,” he said.

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