Boop boop diddum daddum WADM Boom

Art Johnston sent the local press the worrisome news that ISD 709 has suffered another significant drop in its October attendance. He’s a little surprised that no news source has mentioned this, as of yet.

The Duluth Public Schools disclosed to the School Board on Monday our enrollment figures for this fall. This showed another large, unpredicted decrease of students and raises lots of concerns.

The Duluth Public School enrollment for the start of this year is 8366 students in grades K through 12.

This is a loss of 227 students compared to the start of last year.

This loss of students is the highest loss that has occurred since 2009, the start of the Duluth School’s Long Range Facility Plan.

The Demographic study done for the Long Range Facilities Plan showed that the decrease in students would bottom out in 2012 at 9200 students. The current enrollment is almost 850 students lower than that prediction.

This Demographic study also indicated that school enrollment would steadily be increasing from 2012, and we have been hoping that would happen, but in fact, the opposite has occurred.

This loss of students has had a very significant impact on our school’s finances. Duluth Public Schools receive about $11,000 per student from the State of Minnesota per year.

The loss of 227 students compared to last year will result in a revenue loss of about $2.5 million.

Since the initiation of the Long Range Facilities Plan, our Duluth Public Schools have lost over 1700 students. That 1700 student loss resulted in about a $18 million annual loss in revenue.

Having such a loss of revenue was never predicted when the Long Range Facility Plan was implemented. The Long Range Facilities Plan debt payments are about $23 million per year. The high debt payments coupled with the loss of student is exacerbating our financial and curriculum problems.

When Edison Charter Schools open up a High School next year, that will further accelerate the loss of students. There appears to be no stop in the sliding number of students in the Duluth Public Schools.

As a School Board member, this loss of revenue and students is unsustainable, but is not being addressed by the School Administration.

WADMs is the horrible accronym for “Weighted Average Daily Membership.” Its a substitute for the idea of enrollment made into a formula based on how much state revenue we get for the average child attending our public schools. Rural kids who need bussing get a little additional state support as do poor kids and special needs kids. The pot we get from the state is totaled up and then divided by our actual enrollment to get an average figure of revenue per child.

At our last Board meeting we learned that a new accronym will be taking WADM’s place, APU. I’m sure I’ll be explaining this some day soon.

Art always outrages our school board when he brings up the continuing evaporation of our students. He believes they simply attend other area schools and that they don’t generally represent families who are leaving the area. I think Art is right.

The attitude of the Board members who do not wish to discuss this issue publicly seems to be that talking about it will only serve to discourage families and drive out more children. There may be some truth to this but I’m not a believer in the “ignorance is bliss” school of thought.

We will soon have a new school board and I hope it will address this ongoing problem and seek remedies to stem the outgoing tide.

That tide could accelerate quite soon if or more likely when the Edison Charter builds a new high school.

I did not attend the meeting that Rep Erik Simonson called yesterday to talk about the impact of charters on Duluth’s schools. Art and Alanna both went as did the Superintendent and folks from both the Edison schools and Harbor City. When the question of the impact was raised our Superintendent minimized it suggesting that it would only account for perhaps 200 students not the 600 enrollment capacity that Edison is anticipating. For this to happen Edison parents would either 1. have to decide not to send their children to an Edison High or 2. Have the new Edison High filled up with students from other area schools like Hermantown and Proctor. Either possibility strikes me as blind optimism.

BTW – The title of this post comes from a song my Mother used to sing to me when I was little and that I sang to her when she was old.

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