Something to think about...by Superintendent Westerberg
The first week of the new school year went very well. Principals reported students being excited and ready for the new school year. Other than the usual challenges of transporting kindergartners, most having not ridden a school bus before, it was a great start. There is a lot for students and staff to look forward to in the new year. Independence Elementary STEM has started implementing a new, hands-on STEM curriculum and lab, Liberty students have an improved playground and a new school garden, and middle and high school students enjoyed seeing their friends. The improved parking lots and safer bus parking area between the middle and high schools are welcome improvements for everyone.
Something else exciting for the school district is increased enrollment. For the first time since 2007, the enrollment in grades K-12 is higher than the previous year. The “Great Recession” hit the district very hard with home foreclosures and families leaving the area. When I arrived in 2015, the district was experiencing 2-3% declining enrollment each year. This meant 60-90 fewer students than the previous year. That number dropped the last couple years to about 30-40 students. The enrollment for this year was projected to decline by about 30 students, so the increase is a very pleasant turnaround.
When districts experience declining enrollment, people assume staffing can be adjusted to balance the budget. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. The loss of students takes place across multiple grade levels so it’s not possible to eliminate staff without significantly increasing class sizes or cutting programs.
Since public schools receive funding from the state for each student enrolled, increased enrollment is significant for the school’s operating budget. The enrollment surge in Big Lake resulted in the addition of three elementary teachers this summer to lower class sizes. The additional revenue from the increased enrollment will pay for the additional expense of these new teachers. Thankfully, the improved economy and the increased housing in the school district have contributed to more families moving to the Big Lake area. I’m confident it’s also a sign that parents want their children to be part of the many exciting things happening in the district and the excellent staff we have in Big Lake Schools.