Local school districts cope with falling enrollment


All four Jefferson County public school districts are reporting declining enrollment numbers for the fall 2013 semester when compared with figures from one year ago.

Pine Bluff

The Pine Bluff School District reports that it is starting off the new school year with a loss of more than 100 students from the 2012-2013 school year; with 4,366 students registered as of the first week of September versus 4,473 students one year ago.

“I hate to lose students and anytime we do we have to watch our budget,” district superintendent Linda Watson said. “These losses cause a loss to our operations budget as well as to our federal Title I and NSLA funding. This puts a triple whammy on the district. Hopefully we made the necessary adjustments when we closed [Greenville Elementary] last year. Some of our classes had only 12 or 13 students. We are trying to target class sizes of 20 students plus or minus a few. We are watching our enrollment and classroom numbers closely.”

Watson Chapel

A total of 2,895 students attend the Watson Chapel School District, according to district superintendent Danny Hazelwood.

“Our enrollment numbers across the district have gone down,” Hazelwood said at last week’s school board meeting. “We have less kids in grades K through six than we have in grades seven through 12. That does not bode well for the future. There are several causes for this trend and they include people moving out of Jefferson County as well as the new school choice law and the opening of the new Quest Middle School. We need to continue to provide the best education and environment for our kids. We are losing less students than other districts in the area. That is small consolation but it is the best that we have right now.”

Dollarway

The Dollarway School District had 1,290 students enrolled as of Sept. 12, which is down by approximately 34 students from a year ago, according to district superintendent Bobby Acklin.

“The numbers at Dollarway High School are actually up this year compared to last,” Acklin said. “We closed out school this May with 414 at the high school and right now we have 450 students there. Robert F. Morehead Middle School is down around 50 students from May to now. I’m thinking we got hurt by the opening of Quest Middle School. We hope to be able to get some of them back next semester.”

Acklin said that on the whole he is encouraged by what he sees.

“I’m not happy with a loss of students but I am encouraged when you realize that it could be a lot worse,” Acklin said. “For a district that is in the second year of a state takeover things could have been worse. We have an opportunity to get out and sell the school district back to the community.”

White Hall

The White Hall School District reported an enrollment number of 2,935 for the start of the 2013-2014 school year, which is down approximately 24 students from one year ago.

“Down is not a good place to be,” district superintendent Larry Smith said. “The loss of more than 20 students translates to a loss of $127,000 in district funding. Each student represents $6,393 in funding to the district. Because of this we have to make adjustments and that is part of what we’ve been trying to do.”