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SH enrollment increase bucks trend

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NEW PALESTINE — While school enrollment figures will not become official until Sept. 12, preliminary numbers indicate Southern Hancock’s enrollment  has grown by 67 students this school year.

The figure is important because districts receive money from the state for each student enrolled. The increase in enrollment equates to an increase in the 2015 proposed budget for the district.

It also means the district is taking the unusual step of adding classes and hiring new teachers after the school year has begun.

Assistant Superintendent Bob Yoder told the school board during the Monday night meeting that if the numbers hold true, he is projecting an increase of nearly $500,000 for the district.

“I would stress to you that these numbers are preliminary,” Yoder said. “I know come Sept. 12, it is going to be less because we seem to always lose a few kids as we go along.”

The funding could change again when all districts must turn in enrollment figures during a second count day in February. If enrollment figures go down at that time, districts will get less money in June and July. That could affect next year’s school funding.    

Despite the numbers being preliminary, the current increase in students left SH administrators pleased but in a bit of a pickle. They needed to shuffle students to avoid overcrowding in classrooms and hire new teachers and assistants to handle the unexpected increase.

According to district documentation, SH is up 28 students at the elementary level and 36 at the middle school. The total increase is 67 students.

“This is great news and hasn’t happened for a while,” Yoder said.

While unsure just yet whether the increase can be attributed exclusively to transfer students, Yoder said they did take in an estimated 100 transfers this year, up about 20 from last year.

“I haven’t looked into that just yet to see if the increase is all transfer kids,” Yoder said. “But, it certainly had some bearing on our increase.”

Following years of continued growth, the district started losing students in 2009-10. That year, the district had 3,231 students. By 2012-14, enrollment had dropped to 3,114.

If current figures hold, the district is expected to have 3,293 students this year, giving SH its highest enrollment in more than six years.

While Yoder feels certain the district will lose a couple of students by the official count day of Sept. 12, he doesn’t think enrollment will drop enough to hurt the budget, which allowed the district to add a couple of teachers.

The board on Monday night approved several staff changes at Sugar Creek Elementary, which added new kindergarten and first-grade classes.

Elizabeth Brown has been hired to teach third grade, while Kindra Moore will move from first grade to teach kindergarten. First-grade teacher Tiffany Buzan will now split time teaching students and being an administrative assistant to Principal Mark Kern.

Kristin Sprague has been hired to teach first grade when Buzan is assisting Kern.   

With 762 students at Sugar Creek Elementary and staff responsibilities, district officials said Kern needed some help evaluating teachers and assisting students and parents; thus the reason for the administrative assistant.

Despite an increase of 36 new students at Doe Creek Middle School, administrators decided not to add new teachers.

“At this point we’re good for this year,” Doe Creek Principal Jim Voelz said. “Things are still very manageable but, if we get an increase of 50 or 75 new students, that’s when we’d have to re-evaluate things.”  

While district officials are pleased to have the increase in students, Yoder approached it all with some trepidation.

“The one thing that is a little disturbing to me is the kindergarten numbers,” Yoder said. “If you look at the numbers, we’re at 205 (students), and that is pretty small.”

The number is down from last year’s kindergarten class of 218. 

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