Stand up and be counted

HOUGHTON – Copper Country school districts joined the rest of the state in adding up students for fall counts tabulated Wednesday.

The annual count is the primary means of setting school funding. Michigan School Aid Fund money, which is allocated on a per-pupil basis, makes up most of a school’s operating budget.

The fall count determines 90 percent of the state’s enrollment figure for a school. The other 10 percent comes from the count conducted in the February of the previous school year.

In many districts, a big incoming or graduating class, or even individual families, can throw off numbers. Eleven students from Chassell Township Schools’ 12-student drop were in two families that moved, said Superintendent George Stockero.

“It’s definitely hard to predict in a small school,” he said. “Last year, we went up seven or eight more than we expected, and this year we obviously fell down.”

There are no specific plans for cuts, but “looking forward, we have to figure out how to tighten our belts,” Stockero said.

Baraga Area Schools dropped from 494 to 455, a drop of 39 students.

“It’s actually about 10 less than we were budgeting for,” said Superintendent Jennifer Lynn. The district has not made plans yet for how to deal with the resulting shortfall, she said.

L’Anse Area Schools went down by 16 students to 670, in line with their budget projections from last spring, said Superintendent Carrie Meyer.

They countered the decline with cuts in all areas, including busing, athletics, teachers, support staff, technology and custodial.

“We tried to pick situations that would least impact the academics of our curriculum,” Meyer said.

The Public Schools of Calumet, Laurium & Keweenaw had the biggest increase of any district for which figures were available this morning. It went up 50 students to 1,512 students. Twenty-five of those came from the district’s virtual academy, which debuted this semester.

Ewen-Trout Creek Schools is at 241, down two from last year. After a period of heavy losses, the district has experienced a leveling-off trend in the past three years, said Superintendent Loren Vannest.

“Considering the region seems to be in a continuing decline, if we are holding steady, that’s a good thing,” said.

Much of that is driven by strong schools of choice enrollments. Those students account for more than a quarter of the district’s population.

“It’s fabulous – almost unheard of,” he said.

Wednesday’s figures are only provisional. Students may be counted for up to 45 days for suspensions, 30 days after an excused absence and 10 days for an unexcused absence.

Districts must submit numbers to their intermediate school districts within five weeks. The ISD has 24 weeks from the count day to give final numbers to the state.