The Detroit Lakes School Board was enjoying the news that most district students were back in the classroom — at least part-time — when Superintendent Mark Jenson delivered what he termed "a little reality check for us" at Monday night's board meeting: Districtwide enrollment is down 213 students, pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, from last year.
Though Jenson noted Tuesday morning that it's not quite time to start worrying yet — due to unusual fluctuations caused by parent panic over potential coronavirus exposure — he did acknowledge the possibility that the district could take a significant financial hit.
"It's about $2 million in general education aid — that's what we're looking at, if these numbers hold," he said, adding that the district receives approximately $6,557 in state aid for every student enrolled in Detroit Lakes schools, whether they're living in the district, or via open enrollment.
Speaking of open enrollment, Jenson said that while upwards of 100 students from other districts typically enroll at Detroit Lakes each year, that number is down this fall as well.
"Obviously we are still getting some (open-enrolled) students coming in, but not at the level we’ve had in the past," he said, adding that many of them might be opting to take distance learning classes from their home districts.
Jenson also noted that about 60 students at all grade levels are opting for some form of home schooling, as opposed to distance learning (where they would still be taking classes from Detroit Lakes teachers).
"The aid follows the student," he said, noting that once a family has notified the district they will be home schooling their children, the district loses the aid they would have received for those students.
In addition, there are 48 students who are choosing to use the state's post-secondary enrollment option to take college courses, either full (39 students) or part-time (nine students), while they are still in high school.
"It's free (college) tuition for them," Jenson said, noting that each student's general education aid goes to the college, in lieu of tuition, for the classes they take.
Enrollment numbers for the high school are the most likely to fluctuate at this time, he said, because the paperwork for choosing either a home-schooling or post-secondary enrollment option — not to mention, moving out of the district — may not have arrived at the school office in time for the start of classes.
Jenson also noted, however, that the parents of about 30 kindergarten-age students have opted not to enroll their students in the district this fall.
But the news that the superintendent had to report at Monday night's meeting was not all bad: High school students, who were forced to go to a fully remote learning model at the start of fall classes last week, after a high school staff member tested positive for COVID-19 (novel coronavirus), are now attending some classes in person.
"We are now using a hybrid model (combination of distance and in-person learning) for both the middle and high school, and in-person learning at both elementaries," Jenson said, adding that he had been at the high school to watch students arriving for classes that morning, and noted how happy they appeared to be interacting with each other, and their teachers.
He told board members at Monday's meeting — with all members attending in-person, instead of remotely, for the first time since March — that the learning models at each building would most likely remain unchanged for at least the next couple of weeks, as the current number of active COVID-19 cases in Becker County appears to be holding steady.
Preliminary school district levy set
Also at Monday's meeting, the board set a preliminary 2020, payable 2021 school district property tax levy of $9,015,836, an increase of $217,968, or 2.48%, over the previous year. This was the maximum allowed under state law.
The levy will be finalized in December, following a public hearing that will take place at 6 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 21 in the Detroit Lakes City Council Chambers (1025 Roosevelt Ave.).