The Dearborn Public School District’s preliminary student count this month brought good news to officials worried about school finances.
The required headcount—which all Michigan districts must take part in because it determines per-pupil funding—revealed that 19,160 students were enrolled in Dearborn Schools. That’s up from 18,993 for the 2011-12 year, and is the second year in a row the district has been able to significantly increase its enrollment.
Brian Whiston, the district’s superintendent, said it’s confirmation good things are happening at the schools.
“Parents do have choices, and it’s great that they’ve put their faith in the schools,” he said. “At a time when most school districts in Michigan are losing students, this is a vote of confidence that we’re moving in the right direction.”
District spokesman David Mustonen said the count typically goes down once a second count takes place, but that officials can still expect a net gain in students.
“The number will go down; that’s something we see every year,” he said. “And, the final funding will be based on a blended count.”
If the count remains the same, or increases, the district will pocket $1.39 million in per-pupil funding; but if the drop occurs at the same level as previous years, it could mean a net gain of about 80 students, and an influx of cash equal to about $725,000.
The district’s per-pupil foundation grant is $8,348.
Per-pupil funding will be determined using a blended count from numbers derived in October and February; the count is weighted on a 90-10 percent split.
Because of the state’s mechanism for funding public schools, enrollment is a key part of a district’s ability to remain in the black. The district’s enrollment level reached an all-time low of about 12,000 students in 1996, but since then, enrollment has steadily increased.
The good news about funding comes after bad news. The district learned in September that the pension rate contribution for all Michigan districts would increase by 1 percent—which means officials would need to pare an unexpected $1 million from its $170 million budget.
The Michigan Office of Retirement Services increased the rate to cover monies expected from a 3 percent increase levied on teacher wages that is in legal limbo due to a lawsuit filed by the state’s two largest teacher unions, the Michigan Education Association and the Michigan American Federation of Teachers.
Although the enrollment numbers, had they gone down, would have triggered further cuts at the district, the fact is that the increase in funding will not defray most of what was lost due to the pension increase, Mustonen said.
“It will help, but it’s not going to eliminate (the deficit),” he said. “We had to hire teachers to handle the influx of students, and that’s an expense.”