REGIONAL— With last year’s downturn in the taconite industry, many school districts in northern St. Louis County had braced themselves for falling enrollment, and the budget pain that comes with …
REGIONAL— With last year’s downturn in the taconite industry, many school districts in northern St. Louis County had braced themselves for falling enrollment, and the budget pain that comes with it.
So many were pleasantly surprised when student numbers largely held steady, and even increased in a few instances. Both the St. Louis County and Ely school districts were among those experiencing an increase in student numbers. In the case of St. Louis County district, a big jump in enrollment at Cherry helped lead a district-wide increase of students from the 1,852 at the end of the 2015-16 school year to 1,946 when the doors opened this fall.
Cherry’s enrollment jumped from 437 last May to 507 this fall. St. Louis County School Superintendent Steve Sallee said a spike in open enrollment students from the Hibbing area is continuing to boost student numbers at Cherry.
Indeed, based on student numbers at this point, Cherry is now serving nearly as many students as the North Woods and South Ridge schools.
North Woods student numbers also increased, from 515 as of May, to 546 this fall. Northeast Range, which the district had feared would see a loss of students, held largely stable, at 272.
The jump in enrollment will help the county schools improve their financial picture significantly. Based on conservative enrollment numbers, the board approved a 2016-17 budget earlier this year with a nearly $1.5 million deficit. But Sallee said the extra students will add about $600,000 in revenue, compared to the initial projection, which was based on a student enrollment of 1,819.
“This is still being conservative because there is no guarantee these numbers will hold for the entire year, but it’s certainly great news for the budget,” said Sallee. “We signed six more open enrollment forms today that are not reflected in this yet. Hopefully it keeps going up and not down.”
The district also was able to switch its health insurance provider to Medica, which Sallee projects will save the district about $100,000. He said the district’s business manager is currently working to update budget numbers, which should be available soon.
The news was also positive at the Ely School District, where enrollment jumped by 17 students over last year, which should add about $150,000 to the revenue side of the district’s budget. “We had a good influx of students coming through in June and again in August,” Grades 6-12 Principal Megan Anderson told the board last week. “This is a great way to start our year.”
In Tower, enrollment at the Vermilion Country Charter School appears to have remained stable, after beginning the year a bit lower than expected. An influx of a few new students by the third week was expected to push the student numbers into the low-40s range, almost exactly the same as numbers in the spring. The school began its year ahead of the Labor Day weekend, which appears to have limited student turnout the first week.
In Mesabi Range communities, the enrollment picture was more mixed, although losses were relatively small. Eveleth-Gilbert Superintendent Jeff Carey said the school district did lose about 40 families, probably related to the taconite plant shutdowns that hit the area in 2015. Yet by the time the doors opened, 37 new kids showed up, leaving the district down just four students for the opening week.
It was a similar story in the Virginia School District, according to the district’s new superintendent Noel Schmidt, who said the district appears down about 20 students, with total enrollment as of opening week at 1,648. “It was pretty close to where we guessed we’d be,” he said. Schmidt noted, however, that the district’s enrollment has been stable or trending slowly upwards for the past five years.
At Mt. Iron-Buhl, student enrollment was up slightly over the final numbers last spring, according to Superintendent John Klarich. While a number of families were forced to leave as a result of shutdowns at taconite plants or at Magnetation in Chisholm, Klarich said new families coming into the area made up the difference, leaving the district up slightly over projections. “Any time where you’re ahead of where you projected, that’s great,” said Klarich.
Meanwhile, enrollment at Hibbing was down about 34 students from the spring, to 2,384, about on par with expectations.