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DeKalb School Board members discuss declining enrollment

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DeKalb School Board members discuss declining enrollment

A slide from an enrollment report delivered at the Dec. 12 DeKalb County School Board meeting.

DeKalb County, GA — DeKalb County Schools’ declining enrollment began before the COVID-19 pandemic, but the virus accelerated that trend.

Many of those student departures occurred at schools in south DeKalb County.

During the Dec. 12 DeKalb County School Board meeting, board members considered the implications of its dwindling student population. Hans Williams, a Planning and GIS Analyst at DCSD, presented the enrollment report during the meeting.

DeKalb County served 101,482 students in 2016. By 2019, that number had dropped to 98,957. In 2020, enrollment shrank to 93,674, reflecting the effect of the pandemic. Many parents moved to private schools because DeKalb County was all-virtual for most of that school year, and many of those parents did not return to the district, according to comments made by board members and Williams during the presentation.

Williams said the district is still searching for its “new normal” of enrollment following the pandemic.

“The forecast for Fall 2022 was 93,700, basically unchanged from Fall of 2021,” he said. “The actual enrollment this Fall is 92,672, 1,031 less than forecasted. This is a 1.1% forecast error overall, which for forecasts of this nature is a good error rate and in line with our pre-pandemic one-year forecasts. In our annual review of the forecast error, we have determined that the primary driver behind [the error] is continued uncertainty about what the ‘new normal’ for enrollment will be at different schools. Some schools have reverted to previous enrollment trends, while others have developed new trends that the past data does not do a good job of indicating. The farther in time we move from Fall of 2020, the easier it will be to identify what enrollment trends are DeKalb’s new normal.”

The enrollment forecast for 2023 is 91,829 students.

According to Williams’ presentation, south DeKalb schools lost 7,221 students between 2016 and 2022, accounting for most of the 8,810 students the district lost overall.

“South DeKalb, or Regions 3, 5, 6, and 7, are collectively expected to continue the decline in enrollment seen in this area since before 2016,” Williams told the School Board. “While there are signs of potential growth in the area such as new housing, they are not enough to offset the larger trend of families aging out of K-12 schools without being replaced by new families.”

Another thing complicating the school district’s enrollment forecasts is school choice, which allows parents to send their children to schools outside their attendance zones.

“Once we have a forecast based on where students live by attendance area and by grade, we then project where
students will actually attend. 22% of our students — that is over 20,000 DeKalb County School District students — do
not attend their neighborhood school,” Williams said. “We work closely with the School Choice and Student Assignment Department, as well as other departments, to turn our forecast of where students live into an enrollment forecast of where students will attend.”

School Board member Dr. Joyce Morley said the district is unable to fix problems she attributes to the lack of economic development in south DeKalb County. She said the difference in economic development between the two halves of the county is so stark that people traveling from one end of the county to the other might wonder if they’ve entered a different country.

“I live in the south DeKalb and it’s not the same as north DeKalb,” Morley said.

School Board member Marshall Orson, who will be leaving office at the end of this year because he didn’t seek reelection, said declining enrollment costs the district millions because school funding is based on attendance.

“We have to be clear with the public. This is not some esoteric exercise …,” Orson said. “This is a really systemic and consequential problem for the district that’s not sustainable.”

Orson predicted that if enrollment continues to decline, the district will face some difficult decisions.

School Board member Deirdre Pierce said negative perception about the county’s schools also affects enrollment trends.

“The perception of our schools outweighs everything else we’ve talked about here,” Pierce said. “The real estate agents when you’re selling homes, the first question they hear is, ‘How are your schools?'”

She also said some parents have high expectations for schools but aren’t reflected in reality.

“People don’t necessarily want to come into a school and get their hands dirty,” Pierce said. “That’s unfortunate, but that’s a fact. Sometimes our families want to walk into a prefect setting, and we know that doesn’t exist.”

Interim Superintendent Dr. Vasanne Tinsley said that some trends aren’t immediately apparent in the numbers. She said there’s more housing stability in South DeKalb where parents stay even after their children have grown up and left the school system.

To see the enrollment report, click here.

In other DeKalb County Schools news:

— The school board heard a presentation about the schools that need additional state support and the ones that have successfully moved off the state’s list, depending on their academic performance.

On Dec. 12, the state Department of Education released its 2022-2023 list of schools that need Comprehensive Support and Improvement (CSI) and Targeted Support and Improvement (TSI).

“Under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), states are required to identify schools in need of additional support – in Georgia, these designations are referred to as CSI and TSI,” the announcement from Georgia DOE says. “CSI and TSI schools were last identified in 2019, as Georgia – along with other states – received a waiver of school identification requirements due to data limitations resulting from the pandemic. This year, 116 schools were identified for Comprehensive Support & Improvement and 59 were identified for Targeted Support & Improvement. Fifty-seven schools made the improvements necessary to exit CSI or TSI support.”

The Georgia DOE cautioned, “Identification for CSI or TSI support does not mean a school is not improving or making progress, and many schools identified in 2022-2023 serve students who were disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Progress component, which measures student growth, is not included in identifications for 2022-2023 because data was not available due to the suspension of state testing in 2019-2020.”

The following DeKalb County schools were removed from the state CSI / TSI lists:

– (CSI) Miller Grove Middle School, Murphey Candler Elementary School, Redan Elementary School, Toney Elementary School

– (TSI) Allgood Elementary School, Marbut Elementary School, Museum School of Avondale Estates, Rowland Elementary School, Tucker High School.

While nine schools left those lists, the state identified 12 more schools needing additional support. Those schools are:

– Browns Mill Elementary School

– Dresden Elementary School

– McNair High School

– Montclair Elementary School

– Oak View Elementary School

– Panola Way Elementary School

– Pine Ridge Elementary School

– Salem Middle School

– Shadow Rock Elementary School

– Stone Mill Elementary School

– Towers High School

– Woodridge Elementary School

The following DeKalb County schools remain on state lists, their status unchanged from the previous report:

“DCSD collaboratively supports continuous improvement efforts of its state-identified schools, ‘Horizon Schools,’ through Regional Superintendent Offices, the Office of School Improvement, and all Divisions within the district,” the DeKalb County School District said in a press release. “The collaboration includes site-based support that focuses on the following areas: data analysis and interpretation, improving Tier 1 instruction, increasing graduation rates, and providing site specific and district-initiated professional learning.”

— For the second time in two months, the school board approved a large contract to audit how the school district spends money. At its Dec. 12 meeting, the school board awarded a $761,000 contract to Plante Moran, PLLC to audit how the district is spending special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST) money. The DeKalb County School Board, during its Nov. 14 meeting, approved a contract for an audit of how the district spent its COVID-19 relief money.

— During the public comments portion of the meeting, several parent representatives from Laurel Ridge Elementary urged the school district to make urgent and overdue repairs at the school. Issues parents cited included lead paint, unreliable HVAC unit and a leaky roof. Another parent asked the school district to make progress on modernizing and upgrading Druid Hills High.

— The school board approved an agreement with EasterSeals North Georgia for $696,874 for a program serving three-year-old, four-year-old and five-year-old special education students.

“The partnership ensures that the students with disabilities are allowed multiple opportunities to practice academic and social skills, engage with typical peers consistently, and interact with representatives from the community,” the memo attached to the agenda item says.

— The school board approved a payment of $280,000 to the Educational Funding Group to cover payments the district has owned the company since 2018.

— The school board approved the purchase of technology advisory services from Garter, Inc. at a cost of $103,200.

— The school board approved an annual dark fiber point-to-point maintenance agreement with Zayo Enterprise Networks, LLC, worth $56,390.

— The school board approved a contract renewal worth $3.9 million with Convergint Technologies, LLC  to support the district’s physical security services.

“This request … will support monitoring and support services for our existing systems, as well as a refresh of hardware components and software to support video storage and access for all security cameras,” the memo attached to the agenda item says.

— The school board approved paying Atlanta Soundworks, Inc an additional $26,173.29 to purchase DeKalb Schools TV control room furniture and equipment.

— The school board approved a $114,000 agreement with Hudl / Agile Sports Technologies ICA.

“Hudl will provide a platform where every student-athlete can build a custom recruiting profile with academic and athletic stats, game video, highlights, and contact information,” the memo attached to the agenda says. “Coaches can send recruiting profiles to a recruiter’s email through Hudl.”

— The school board approved a contract extension worth $2.6 million with Metro LED, LLC for cabinet sign replacement Services.

The memo attached to the agenda says, “School sites that are currently without an electronic reader board sign will receive a new sign. Those schools that currently have an electronic reader board sign will receive an updated LED reader board. All signs will use the same communication software.”

— The school board approved the purchase of natural gas from SCANA Energy Marketing Inc. The contract, which ends Dec. 31, 2023, is worth $2.5 million.

— The school board approved a $4 million contract with AmeriGas Propane LP for liquid propane gas delivery service.

“The requested contract through June 30, 2023, will allow the Transportation Department to fuel buses and transport students safely and efficiently to school,” the memo attached to the agenda says. “The district currently has 167 alternative fuel propane school buses in its fleet.”

— The school board approved the purchase of 10 diesel school buses from Yancey Bus Sales at a cost of $2 million.

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