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Numbers dropping at Peabody-Burns

Staff writer

This year’s enrollment at Peabody-Burns school is down eight students from a year ago.

Superintendent Ron Traxson gave his assessment of where the district is headed during last week’s school board meeting.

Traxson’s unofficial head count is prior to the state’s Sept. 20 official enrollment count. The official head count is used to set state funding for the district.

Enrollment numbers have declined each of the last 11 years, from 2006-2007 enrollment of 384 to current enrollment of 235. The number of certified staff has gone from 37 in 2006-2007 to 28.5 this year.

“It’s affected the budget every year that it’s dropped,” Traxson said.

The district fared better when the state used a block grant system for school funding, he said.

“What I feared the most was coming off that block and getting the drop,” Traxson said. “Most districts did gain with the new state aid. We lost.”

Still, the district’s funding decrease won’t be as bad as he’d anticipated.

Knowing state dollars will go down gives the district time to make plans that might reverse the trend, Traxson said.

Implementing programs and curriculum that would entice people to come to Peabody and the school district would help enrollment numbers go up, but it’s not easy to develop them when money is going down, he said.

The community as a whole is part of school enrollment as well, Traxson said. Having homes for incoming families and jobs for parents also are factors in turning around enrollment numbers.

Traxson waits uneasily to see what will happen with federal funding.

“Right now with current administration and direction, I expect it to get worse,” Traxson said. “Right now it’s not a large amount of what we depend on. But we might not be able to continue to offer some programs.”

Traxson disputes an often-expressed idea that school districts simply spend at will.

“The smaller the district, I guarantee you the board is watching their money and spending very wisely,” Traxson said. “They are very careful with their public money because they have to be.”

Dale Dennis, deputy commissioner of the state department of education, said declining enrollment numbers have a direct effect on state funding, though not in the current school year.

A district’s annual funding can be based on the number of students enrolled the prior year or on the number enrolled two years prior, whichever number is higher, Dennis said. Funding amounts don’t change immediately because of reduced enrollment.

Despite that delay, losing eight students will eventually take a toll.

“When this does take effect, it will cost the district in the vicinity of $30,000 to $40,000,” Dennis said.

“Any time you lose 10 kids, that’s over $60,000,” Traxson said. “You gain 10 kids and that’s an additional $60,000.”

Most state aid is intended for district operating costs and given with few limitations on use of the money, Dennis said. Some portions of state aid dollars are earmarked, such as special education funds.

Dennis said the district’s declining enrollment might not have much of an effect on federal aid.

“A lot of time federal aid is in relation to poverty,” Dennis said. “If the poverty goes up, you might break even.”

Traxson said operating money has to be spread thinner because many operating expenses are on the increase.

“I still have two buildings to operate and bus routes to maintain,” Traxson said. “That has not decreased, that’s gone up.”

Traxson said the district isn’t in as dire straits as it could be.

“Our problem is not immediate,” he said. “We just have to make plans for swings of $20,000 to $80,000 in our budget.”

Last modified Sept. 21, 2017

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