Data shows enrollment up in Bibb schools

Bibb County school leaders say student enrollment is up by almost 800 students in the first days of school since last year at this time, though the official numbers could change in the coming months.

There were 25,486 students listed in the system’s online database as of Wednesday. That number includes 24,203 students who have been physically present in class, with the rest on the rolls but not present. Those enrollment figures do not include students who have dropped out or moved out of the area, Superintendent Romain Dallemand said at a school board meeting Thursday.

At the start of school last year, the district had 24,686 total students registered in the database. On Monday, the sixth day of school, employees will cross-check their rolls and figure out who hasn’t been in class yet, said Kimberlyn Carter, director of strategic partnerships at the system’s Welcome Center.

The numbers are subject to change as students get settled, but the process of counting students has not changed since last year, Dallemand said. The state also will count students physically present in schools in October, and that number determines how much money Bibb schools will get from the state.

The economy, the introduction of Mandarin Chinese to primary grades’ curriculum and other initiatives in the Macon Miracle are some of the reasons behind the higher enrollment numbers, Dallemand said.

He also said the introduction of the system’s Welcome Center this year -- requiring new and transferring students to register there instead of at schools -- has helped students begin learning once they get to school each day, based on his visits to several schools this week.

“For the most part, with a few exceptions, when students go to their schools, they went directly to their classrooms,” the superintendent said.

Carter said Welcome Center staff didn’t know what to expect this year in light of reports of people leaving the system. Despite some challenges, staff members are working on improving the experience for families.

“I didn’t get a playoff season,” she said. “I landed right in the Super Bowl.”

In an update to board members about the budget as of June 30, Chief Financial Officer Ron Collier said new numbers show there is an additional $64,000 in the fund balance than what projected in preliminary figures.

In July, the system used about $8 million to cover deficits in the fiscal 2013 budget to cover lower state and local revenue funding as well as higher employee costs.

This week, accounting firm Mauldin & Jenkins started auditing the system’s finances for the past fiscal year, Collier said.

Board members later discussed the possible cost savings from proposals to close schools and cut staff through attrition, which were included in an early draft of the Macon Miracle plan.

Dallemand said closing up to 10 elementary schools and cutting 300 positions through retirements and resignations could save the system $23 million to $27 million over several years.

Closing schools with low student enrollment might need to be reconsidered in light of future budget projections, some board members said.

“It’s something we need to look at soon, real soon,” board member Tom Hudson said.

Board President Tommy Barnes said school leaders will need to consider how schools could serve the district’s future educational needs as well as how to best merge schools.

“I would hate for that process to get out of (line) with what our needs are going to be,” Barnes said.

Considering the challenges that arose when school leaders have had to close schools in the past, board member Lynn Farmer said the public should be involved in the process when the time comes.

“The important thing is that we bring the community along,” she said.

In other business Thursday, in a 4-2 vote, the board approved increasing elementary school lunch prices by a dime to $1, bringing them in line with current prices at the middle and high schools, with board members Gary Bechtel and Sue Sipe voting against the measure. Board members Ella Carter and Wanda West were not present because of family emergencies.

Through the price increase, the system is working to comply with the federal Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 by making sure that essentially the federal government isn’t subsidizing the cost of paid lunches, Barnes said. The federal government also takes into account the funding a school receives for free and reduced meals.

With almost 80 percent of Bibb students on free or reduced lunches, the full price of Bibb’s lunches are less than half of those in Houston County, Collier said.

“This increase in the school lunch price at the elementary schools will be the first increase in over 16 years,” a memo to school board members stated.

To contact writer Andrea Castillo, call 744-4331.