Rob Haworth

Rob Haworth

As the Vigo County School Corp. looks at continued enrollment loss, with some schools at just 50 percent capacity, both redistricting and school closings are options that are on the table, Superintendent Rob Haworth said Tuesday.

Earlier, the district reported that enrollment this fall has dropped to 14,190 students, down 173 from last year. That translates into a loss of about $1.13 million in annual state funding given the state funds schools at a rate of $6,510 per student for 2019-20.

Also, a demographic study commissioned in December 2017 projects VCSC enrollment at 13,563 by 2027-28.

If the district loses another 636 students, that represents another $4.1 million in annual revenue lost when current funding levels are applied.

"We have to prepare for that. We don't want our community to be surprised by that," Haworth said.

He urges citizens to attend community meetings that are scheduled through Oct. 17 so they can provide suggestions and feedback on how the district should approach budget cuts.

Those community meetings, conducted by the “Vote Yes for Vigo County Schools," political action committee, address the referendum, seek feedback on budget cuts and also ask for input on the future of facilities.

The district is asking the public to attend those sessions "and help us formulate the solution," Haworth said.

The district and the school board also must take the enrollment declines under consideration as they develop a strategic plan and consider future facility needs.

The downward enrollment trend is not new. Over the last 10 years, the district has lost 1,300 students.

Statewide, last year's birthrate was the lowest since 1987 in Indiana, a trend playing out in Vigo County as well.

"Our enrollment is shrinking because our community is shrinking," Haworth said.

Because of declining enrollment and other factors — including increased hiring of staff for student safety and health — the district has a declining cash balance.

In response, the district proposes a $7 million operating referendum, and the schools will make $4 million in budget cuts. If the referendum fails, that will mean $8 million in budget cuts, Haworth said.

If the district does nothing, it will be in the red by 2021, he has said.

The goal is to make cuts "as far away from the classroom as possible," he said. "We want to make sure our academic integrity stays in place."

The district does well academically, especially when considering the percentage of students on free/reduced lunch, he said.

Yet with continued enrollment decline and a corresponding need for cuts, "I would say there is a definite concern" about potential impact on the classroom, Haworth said.

Some of the suggestions made at recent community meetings include revenue-generating ideas, redistricting, school closings, reduction of administrators and teacher buyouts for those at the top of the salary schedule.

Haworth hopes to announce by the end of this month community suggestions for budget cuts and revenue enhancements.

One bright spot for the corporation’s student count is Vigo Virtual Success Academy, a new, online school option for high school students.

As of Sept. 13, VVSA had enrolled 109 students, 38 of them new to the district enrollment count. Those 38 students represent $210,273 in new funding, since virtual student enrollment provides funding at 85% of the rate of a non-virtual student.

Another future revenue source is a proposed international residency program, which would be a tuition-based program in which families or sending countries might pay about $20,000 to $25,000. The district has looked at a model used by Kokomo High School.

The program potentially could be in place for next year, Haworth said last week.

The district will continue to look at other revenue enhancements.

Declining enrollment has implications for facilities. An architectural firm is assessing every building and giving each a grade, Haworth said. If the district must consider redistricting or school closings, it will look not just at building enrollment and capacity, but also the condition of the building in question.

Again, he encouraged citizens to attend the community meetings being conducted at all elementary schools. This week, remaining will be at Riley on Wednesday and DeVaney on Thursday. All sessions start at 6:30 p.m. and last until about 8 p.m.

The district wants community involvement "to create the best pathway forward," Haworth said.

He believes a strong school system is critical to creating growth in the community. It's a collaborative effort involving higher education, economic development partners and others. "If we're always in retreat mode ... I don't believe people will want to come here," Haworth said.

In a news release, the district stated, “The ADM [daily enrollment] count is where we get our funding, and our ADM count continues to shrink year after year.

"According to our demographic studies, we must continue to look for new ways to raise revenue for our schools while making significant cuts to protect the financial stability of the Vigo County School Corp."

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or at sue.loughlin@tribstar.com Follow Sue on Twitter @TribStarSue.

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