Public school enrollment up

Published 10:36 am Saturday, December 5, 2009

According to recently released figures from the Virginia Department of Education, all three local public school divisions have seen enrollment increases this school year compared with last year.

The figures are from the Department of Education’s fall membership report, which counts all students enrolled in public schools as of Sept. 30 each year.

The enrollment increases — ranging from 4 students in Franklin to 79 in Southampton — weren’t dramatic, but they are welcomed, especially in Franklin. The school division’s enrollment had been declining at a steady pace for several years.

“We’re glad that the numbers are up,” said Franklin Superintendent Dr. Michelle Belle. The district now enrolls 1,303 students. Belle said that it’s almost impossible to pin down what caused the enrollment increase.

“I’m hoping that it’s because we’ve put some changes in place,” she said noting advancements in the district’s academics and discipline. “But it’s very hard to validate that.”

Dr. Wayne K. Smith, executive director of administration and personnel for Southampton County Schools, said the district’s enrollment has been increasing, but they didn’t expect such a large increase this year. The district now has 2,929 students.

“It was unexpected, but we have made changes to staffing and the instructional programs,” he said.

Smith said the increase is likely the result of people moving into Southampton County.

“We’ve seen an influx of people moving into the county,” he said.

Isle of Wight Schools added 38 students this year and enrollment now stands at 5,533. Spokeswoman Katherine Goff said the school division has seen a “steady increase” in enrollment for several years, even as some divisions have seen enrollment decrease.

“We continue to see a slight increase,” she said. “It’s primarily been in the northern end of the county.”

Local school systems could see more state funding as a result of higher enrollments. However, Belle cautioned that the state’s bleak budget situation could still mean more cuts in education funding.

“We don’t know where we’re going to be with this budget,” she said. “We just have to be patient and wait.”

While enrollment is up this year, local districts aren’t sure what to expect next year, when International Paper Co.’s Franklin mill closes, costing the region over 1,000 jobs.

“It’s a little too early to tell what impact we will see,” Goff said. She said it could cause an increase if students currently enrolled in private schools transfer into the system or a decrease if families are forced to move away.

“It may cause an increase, a decrease or it may even out,” she said.

Belle echoed Goff’s uncertainty about the effect of the mill’s closure on enrollment.

“We just don’t know,” Belle said. “We just hope that we will be able to maintain.”