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Last updated: Tue. Sep. 20, 2011 - 12:49 pm EDT

FWCS likely stays No. 2

Local enrollment dip leaves Indianapolis biggest district

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Enrollment at a glance

Public schools were required to count their students Friday. Below are preliminary results for Allen County:

School 2010 2011 Difference
Fort Wayne Community Schools 31,568 31,022 -546
Southwest Allen County Schools 6,993 6,929 -64
Northwest Allen County Schools 6,331 6,555 +224
Timothy L. Johnson Academy 277 307 +30
Imagine on Broadway 429 446 +17
Imagine MASTer Academy 813 756 -57
East Allen County Schools enrollment declined, though numbers aren't final

Source: Allen County school district officials

With enrollment declines reported at most Allen County school districts, Fort Wayne Community Schools is not expected to surpass Indianapolis Public Schools to become the largest district in the state this year.

FWCS dropped from 31,568 students to 31,022 this year – a 1.7 percent decrease from the previous year when enrollment was flat.

IPS spokeswoman Mary Louise Bewley would not release official numbers to The Journal Gazette on Monday, but she said based on the preliminary enrollment reported by FWCS, Indianapolis would remain the largest district in the state – though "not by much."

Last year Indianapolis had 32,366 students, down 1,000 from the year before.

Friday was "count day" – the day public schools must tally their enrollment.

The number of students enrolled on count day determines how much money districts receive from the state.

The final numbers can change slightly, however, because districts have about two weeks from count day to verify the data and make changes.

Enrollment at IPS has been declining, and some have speculated that Fort Wayne Community Schools could become the largest district in the state in the next few years. FWCS officials have said the designation could be an advantage, particularly by allowing the district to highlight funding disparities between the two urban school corporations.

Last year, for example, IPS proposed a 2011 budget of $509 million, while FWCS has proposed a 2011 budget of $274 million.

In Allen County, Northwest Allen County Schools was the only school district to see an enrollment increase this year. NACS reported 6,555 students – up 224 from last year.

Several district leaders said Indiana's new voucher program played a role in their enrollment declines.

The program, the most expansive in the state, takes some of the money that would have gone to public school systems and converts it into scholarships at private schools that qualify with the state.

According to the latest figures released by the Indiana Department of Education, about 245 students within the boundaries of Fort Wayne Community Schools are participating in voucher program.

East Allen has 48 students within its boundaries who are using vouchers, Southwest Allen County Schools has 14, and Northwest Allen County Schools has five.

NACS Superintendent Chris Himsel said the district's enrollment growth was a pleasant surprise that will allow the district to more quickly tackle its $750,000 deficit.

Originally, Himsel said, demographers had predicted the district would see growth of 20 or 30 students.

"We've had some new move-ins," Himsel said. "I'm hopeful that means the economy is starting to come back."

Southwest Allen County Schools saw an enrollment decrease for the first time in years, dropping 64 students for a total enrollment of 6,929.

Superintendent Steve Yager said he wasn't surprised, as demographers had predicted a slight downturn. He attributed the dip to foreclosures and the weak economy.

East Allen County Schools Superintendent Karyle Green said she didn't have final numbers ready Monday, but that enrollment in the district was down, likely by at least 350 students.

Part of the decrease, she said, was due to smaller student groups in the lower grade levels, a loss of high school students as a result of the Paul Harding High School closure, and students enrolling elsewhere as part of the state's new voucher program.

She expected final enrollment numbers to be ready by the middle of the week.

Enrollment trends at Allen County charter schools were mixed.

The Timothy L. Johnson Academy grew from 277 to 307, but School Leader Steve Bollier said that was largely because the school added an eighth grade and an additional kindergarten class.

Imagine on Broadway reported 446 students, up from 429 last year. Imagine MASTer Academy has 756 students, down 57 students from last year.

Krista Stockman, FWCS spokeswoman, said the district's enrollment dip was affected by people moving out of the area to find employment and the voucher program.

That said, the dip was not particularly significant for an urban district the size of FWCS, she said..

"It's not a stark decrease," Stockman said. "At the same time, we don't want to lose any students. This obviously isn't what we want to see happen, but we're not surprised."

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