Morgan County and state school enrollment drop

by Kate Evans

The official Morgan County School headcount enrollment figures for the 2018-2019 school year have decreased by 30 students from the 2017-2018 school year.   The loss in enrollment will reduce state aid funding for Morgan County in the 2019-2020 school year. How much state money will be lost is uncertain at this time.

Morgan County Schools had a head count of 2,302 students enrolled by October 1, 2018.  At that time in 2017, 2,332 students were enrolled in county schools, according to the West Virginia Department of Education’s enrollment data provided by Morgan County Schools Treasurer Ann Bell.

West Virginia Public Schools saw a drop of 4,858 students — from 270,613 last year to 265,755 this year.

Morgan County Schools ranked 38th in enrollment out of West Virginia’s 55 counties.   Kanawha County placed first, with 25,686 students, Berkeley County second with 19,471, Jefferson County ninth with 9,034, Hampshire County 30th with 2,994, Pendleton County 54th with 929 and Gilmer County last with 811.

State aid funding

For state aid funding purposes, the headcount enrollment is further reduced to   full-time equivalency (FTE) student enrollment as of October 1, Bell said.

Pre-kindergarten students are counted based on age, whether or not they have an individualized education program (IEP) and how many days and hours they’re enrolled in school, Bell noted previously.

Home-schooled students and high school students that are taking a course or two are also counted toward total enrollment, said Morgan County Schools Secondary Education Director Russell Penner.

Affects personnel

Morgan County Schools Superintendent Erich May said the decline in student population and expected reduced state aid for next year will definitely be a factor as they begin personnel planning and putting together the budget for the 2019-2020 school year this spring. More than 80% of the school budget funds employee salaries and benefits.

County Schools Human Resources Director Jamie Harris said it was their goal to have all of the personnel planning for reductions-in-force (RIFs) and transfers determined by March 1.   Bell said the school board budget workshop will be held in late April. The school budget is due by May 30.

A contributing factor

Penner said the number of county high school graduates is higher than the number of incoming kindergarten students, contributing to the county’s decline in enrollment.

Last year’s total number of high school seniors was 178 at Berkeley Springs High School and 10 at Paw Paw High School-while the number of incoming kindergarteners this year was 155. The county gains as some home-school kids come in to the school system or transfer to other grades.

Cyber Academy

Morgan County Schools gained enrollment of 12 home-schooled students in the new Morgan County Schools Warm Springs Cyber Academy, Penner said. The virtual program offers online courses that local home-schooled students can take at home or in a school building. This school year the cyber academy was only available to students in grades 6-9.

Penner said this fall kindergarten through tenth grade students will be able to take courses through the cyber academy. By year four, it will be available for students k-12.

Penner said previously that the cyber school allows flexibility for families whose children have athletic and artistic pursuits that have to leave school early for dance classes or sports practices. Many of these students end up being home-schooled.

To be eligible for the virtual program, students must be enrolled in Morgan County Schools as a fulltime student, which is six courses per year at the high school level and at least four courses at the middle school and elementary school levels.

Home-school numbers rise

Morgan County’s home-schooled student population is currently around 270 students, up from approximately 240 students in the 2017-2018 school year and about 196 in the 2016-2017 school year.

Most of the increase is from families moving here from other counties or states where they already home-schooled their children, Penner said. There are also county families with children that have turned school-age that wanted to home-school them, too.

Penner said that Morgan County Schools has new students enrolling and students moving out of the district all the time. Each week they may lose a student or gain a couple.