Bibb school enrollment dips, Houston increases

Telegraph staffSeptember 23, 2013 

School enrollment continues to decline in Bibb County and increase in Houston County, new figures show.

In the Bibb County school district, enrollment has steadily decreased over the past few years. The system’s enrollment figures show a drop from 24,961 students three years ago to around 24,700 in late August of last year to 24,385 now. That trend suggests a loss of about 200 students per year, but Bibb County schools were planning for a loss of about 50 students per year, officials said at a recent weekend retreat.

Bibb County interim Superintendent Steve Smith said during the retreat that the county’s demographics are changing. People are having children later in life, and fewer of them, leading to declines in Bibb County’s public school enrollment and also its private school enrollment, Smith said.

Bibb County school board member Jason Downey warned during the same retreat that charter schools approved last week, and more to come, will combine to take perhaps 3,000 students and $20 million in annual funding in the next few years.

Some schools on an upswing

Other area school districts, however, have seen slight increases. Peach County schools are up 54 students from last year with a total with 3,775.

In Houston County, enrollment is more than 27,900 compared to last fall’s total of around 27,610, according to officials.

More people are raising their children in Houston County, and a major reason likely is because the school district trumps the state in exams and other assessments, said Mark Scott, assistant superintendent of human resources.

“Our schools continue to outperform the state,” he said, which is a reason “people are wanting to live and send their children to schools in Houston County.”

The district has hired a few additional faculty members as a result of the enrollment bump, and officials are looking to tweak zoning next academic year at some schools to help ease crowding.

On the elementary level, Matt Arthur Elementary School has the biggest population with 812 students, Scott said.

Officials are looking to rezone elementary schools in the Perry area to help ease crowding at Matt Arthur and to place students in the new Langston Road Elementary School, which is scheduled to open next academic year in Perry, said Cindy Flesher, assistant superintendent of school operations.

The plan is to “make sure all the elementary schools in Perry have an adequate number, a pretty equal number” of students, she said.

On the middle school level, Bonaire Middle is the most populated with around 1,000 students, Scott said. Officials discussed during a board retreat in July a possible rezoning in that area to help ease crowding. Enrollment is well-balanced among high schools since officials rezoned those schools a few years ago, Scott said. Officials will hold community forums to gather feedback about any zone changes.

The district already had budgeted new employee positions to accommodate anticipated growth. But since the school year began, the district has experienced more growth than expected. Therefore, officials have requested five new positions that initially were not included in this year’s budget, Scott said.

Positions have been added at Bonaire Middle, Feagin Mill Middle, Perry Primary, Miller Elementary and Eagle Springs Elementary schools.

“We’ve had schools that have continued to grow each year a little bit,” he said.

To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751.

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