First week enrollment in Monticello public schools fell below projections by 56 students with much of the discrepancy coming from the district’s elementary schools.
“It hurts my heart, I’m going to tell you that right now,” said Eric Olson, Monticello superintendent. Enrollment projections play a large role in the district’s allocation of resources.
Numbers provided to the Monticello school board Sept. 21 show that 4,185 of a projected 4,241 students district-wide attended during that first week back to school. These numbers also revealed that just 1,738 of an expected 1,803 students enrolled in grades K-5 were in class the first week.
That lower than expected enrollment at the elementary level was partially offset by higher than expected enrollment at the high school, which saw 1,381 students, or a an additional 14 from the projected 1,367 students, present.
Tina Burkholder, director of business services for Monticello Schools, told school board members she was unsure of the reason for the large discrepancy in the first week’s enrollment numbers.
The district has been pursuing a fully in-person education model for its elementary students and a hybrid model for its middle and high school students, that plan having been decided on late this summer in consultation with representatives from the state health department.
“This is really important,” said superintendent Olson, referring to enrollment. “This equates to budget, this equates to what we can do inside the classrooms, this equates to what we do in how we respond with our employee groups.”
Olson said that even with the lost enrollment that so far the district has been lucky, telling board members that similarly-sized districts in Minnesota have lost upward of 200-250 students this year and that some larger districts have lost 300-500 students.
“It’s a problem throughout our state but it’s a problem that we have to remind ourselves not to let happen,” said Olson. “We need to make sure we have plans moving forward to connect with our people
who are leaving, to continue improving what we are doing and looking in the mirror every day.”
DISTRICT CONTINUES TO MONITOR COVID-19 CASE RATE
Two weeks ago, Monticello and other Wright County districts got a brief moment of heightened alert when the county’s number of COVID-19 cases rose just above 20 per 10,000 population. MDH guidelines have set a case rate of 20 as the turning point for elementary students to transition from in-person to hybrid learning, albeit with some leeway.
Barb Wilson, director of human resources for Monticello, said that it’s less about one week’s case rate as it is about “a consistent pattern of increase toward a number that would cause us to change our learning mode.” Wilson said that a case rate above 20 for three weeks in a row would also be of concern and could trigger a move to a different education model.
After that blip to a hair above 20, revealed in MDH’s Sept. 10 report and covering the period of Aug. 16-19, the county dropped back to 19.89 by Sept. 17. The most recent report, published Sept. 24, shows that rate has since fallen to 12.96, a significant drop for the period of Aug. 30-Sept. 12, considering that period includes the first week back at school.
But district officials are still preparing for a transition to hybrid learning for elementary students should that transition have to happen in future.
“If our numbers were to creep up, we’d have to be ready to go hybrid at the elementary level and we do have some adjustments that we need to be ready to make when that happens,” said Wilson. Adjustments to class sizes, particularly for grades 4-5, may have to be made as well as adjustments to transportation, she said.