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Enrollment numbers key for schools

State funding relies on headcount

Students have been in class for nearly two months, and school officials are finalizing the district’s budgets.

But one piece of the puzzle remains unfinished: determining student enrollment.

Three local school districts said they submitted enrollment numbers to the Indiana Department of Education late last week.

The fourth district, Northwest Allen County Schools, remains in talks with state officials as they sort out the final numbers.

Officials from Fort Wayne Community Schools, Southwest Allen County Schools and NACS are reporting an increase in enrollment – but it will be a few weeks before districts can determine how many additional students they welcomed for the 2013-14 school year due to the system used to tabulate and confirm numbers.

East Allen County School officials have reported a decline in enrollment, but also won’t know exactly how many students they lost for at least a few weeks.

The numbers are critical for districts as they finalize state-funded budgets – which hinge on student enrollment.

It’s an intricate process, but ensuring that no student is counted twice is imperative, local school officials said.

“It’s all about funding,” FWCS spokeswoman Krista Stockman said.

“This is how the state bases our funding, and as the funding has decreased over the years … this count became increasingly important.”

And despite whether a district’s enrollment is increasing or decreasing, having the necessary funding to afford teachers and services for students is the key to keeping students coming back, SACS Business Manager Jim Coplen said.

“It’s a struggle because we don’t find out until months after school starts exactly what that count is,” he said.

Each year, the state sets an official count day when schools are asked to provide a total number of students present. This year, that count took place Sept. 13.

That single-day count is then paired with the district’s enrollment number, an ongoing count from the start of school.

Once the headcount is completed, preschoolers are removed and kindergarteners are counted as 1/2 students – per Indiana law – and the numbers are submitted again.

Throughout the process, each student is given a number and the state cross-checks to make sure a student is only counted by a single district.

This becomes tricky when students move in and out of districts or enroll at one school and then move to a new school within a few weeks of classes resuming, Stockman said.

“Then that’s a situation we need to clean up,” she said.

For the next few weeks, districts work with state officials to clear up any confusion.

Most local districts have completed that process and await the final counts to be released once all districts have submitted certified enrollment counts.

NACS is still awaiting a certified enrollment count as the district works through reporting issues, Superintendent Chris Himsel said in an email.

The final counts are expected to be released by the state in the coming weeks.