Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Why is Williamsburg County losing its student population?

An official three-month study of Williamsburg County's loss of student population is yet to come, but trustees who met last night began the conversation using these troubling figures:

Student enrollment by year:
2012-2013--------4,423 (projected)

The figures are troubling because school funding is based upon student enrollment, and the students remaining in Williamsburg County public schools have no ally or advocate at the highest levels of government -- not Governor Nikki Haley, and not Superintendent Mick Zais -- to protect them from cuts in resources.

At a Tuesday, Feb. 7 meeting, financial consultant John Thames presented the district’s finance committee with an array of statistics that showed just how many students the district has lost.
Average daily membership is defined by the ability of a student to attend school for 180 days during an academic year. One unit of average daily membership would be made up of one student that attended school for all 180 days of school, where as a half unit of average daily membership will be constituted by a student that only had the opportunity to attend 90 days of school.

“It’s imperative that we keep the students in the classroom,” Thames said.

...Williamsburg County School District Superintendent Dr. Yvonne Jefferson-Barnes said she believes the problem is two-fold.

“I honestly believe that a lot of it has to do with the location of our schools and the boundaries surrounding where our students live,” Jefferson-Barnes said. “I also think there is a significant misconception regarding what we are able to offer and all of the positive things that are going on in this system.”
In the past three years, the district has improved its South Carolina Department of Education report card rating from “at-risk,” to “average,” and is one of the few school districts in the state to pull off such a feat in only three years.

Clearly, the district is doing good things institutionally, and moving in the right direction. But something must be going on. I'd look at business and industry trends in the county during the past decade -- have Williamsburg County businesses closed or moved, and have families had to move to take jobs?

Or, since the 2010 census data is or should soon be available, look at the birth rates in Williamsburg County. Are families having fewer children? Has the infant mortality rate gone up?

Or is the issue a stickier one: Have certain demographic groups moved their children to private schools, leaving other, smaller, demographic groups in the public schools? Let's hope not.

If the root of the student population decline is economic, then maybe Governor Haley can get her Commerce Department to bring some more high-paying jobs into Williamsburg County and attract more families to come back home.

Yes, I know Williamsburg County's working families and public schoolchildren aren't even on Haley's priority list, but we can dream, can't we?

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