Washington Co. Public Schools enrollment up

November 07, 2009|By DAN DEARTH

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Washington County Public Schools officials say enrollment has increased by almost 2,000 students since 2001.

As of September, 21,895 students were enrolled in the school system, according to statistics provided by the Washington County Board of Education. In 2001, the number of students was 19,910.

Deputy Superintendent Boyd Michael said officials had expected growth, but didn't think the increase would be this high because residential construction has been slowed by the sluggish economy.

"We definitely gained more children than we projected," Michael said. "I think right now, we're watching the housing market."

Michael said enrollment increases are cyclical. Growth sometimes can be attributed to higher birth rates and private school students who transfer to the public school system, he said.


Having more students can be positive for school systems because they get additional funding from the state and federal governments, Michael said. But in today's economy, funding from those sources could be reduced. The result would make it harder for officials to address the needs of an increased number of students.

During a meeting Tuesday, the school board talked about the enrollment increase and the problems it might cause in the future.

One impact the board discussed was the number of free and reduced-price meals the system would have to provide. Free and reduced-price meals are given to students if their family income is low enough to qualify.

A family of four, for example, must earn less than $28,665 per year to be eligible for a free meal, and less than $40,793 per year to qualify for a reduced-price meal.

Statistics show that 9,029 students, or about 42.2 percent of all students in Washington County Public Schools, were in the free and reduced-price meal program as of Oct. 30.

In Washington County, students who don't participate in the free and reduced-price meal program pay $1 for breakfast. Elementary students pay $1.80 for lunch, while students in grades six through 12 are charged $2.05.

Jeffrey Proulx, supervisor of food and nutrition services for Washington County Public Schools, said funding for the free and reduced-price meals program in Washington County is anticipated to be about $25,300 per day in fiscal year 2010.

Although the federal government pays for the program, the school system has to apply for funding through the state, Proulx said. State officials then submit a request to the federal government, which releases the money to the state to disburse locally.

About 6,500 Washington County students, or roughly 32.8 percent, received free and reduced-price meals in 2003, Proulx said. Since then, officials began sending mailings to families to get more students involved. In addition, the system started to notify families if their applications weren't completed properly to ensure the benefit was received.

Wayne D. Ridenour, president of the Washington County Board of Education, said he believes part of the reason that more families have enrolled in the program was that participants now can remain anonymous.

In the past, students who received a free or reduced-price meal had to show a card while others paid cash, Ridenour said. As a result, some families were ashamed to ask for help.

"It carried a stigma," Ridenour said. "Every student now has a lunch card. No one can tell."

Title I funding boosts elementary schools

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Elementary schools in Washington County qualify to receive Title I funding from the federal government if 55 percent of the students receive a free or reduced-price meal, said Michael Markoe, assistant superintendent of elementary education for Washington County Public Schools.

Title I provides funding to elementary schools with high percentages of students from families who are economically disadvantaged.

The program is designed to "ensure that all children have a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education," according to the U.S. Department of Education's Web site.

Markoe said Washington County Public Schools receives about $3.7 million in Title I money and uses the funds for many things, including the purchase of instructional materials and staffing increases.

The system has six elementary schools that currently qualify for the funding.

Markoe said Bester and Winter Street elementary schools are given priority because the percentage of students who receive a free or reduced-price meal is more than 75 percent.

Other elementary schools that are above the 55 percent threshold, but below 75 percent, are Eastern, Hickory, Lincolnshire and Salem Avenue.

"(Title I) certainly gives us the ability to add staff and resources to the schools that have the highest (free and reduced-price meals) rates," Markoe said. "So yes, it is a good thing."

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