FORT WAYNE — Preliminary numbers show Fort Wayne Community Schools will be the largest school district in Indiana, passing Indianapolis Public Schools by about 500 students.
Although final enrollment numbers will not be confirmed until later this year, initial figures reported Friday showed FWCS with an enrollment of 30,622 and IPS with 30,128.
The state uses the enrollment number from count day to calculate funding for districts. The preliminary numbers every district in the state submitted must be reconciled by state education officials. The state review includes looking for situations in which two districts claimed the same student was enrolled.
IPS has experienced a gradual decline in enrollment in recent years, allowing the Fort Wayne district to catch up. The Indianapolis district posted an enrollment of 33,521 students in 2009.
But the districts are not as distressed as some had anticipated. Both districts predicted losses resulting in part from the state’s expansion of private school vouchers and additional charter schools opening.
Fort Wayne Community Schools lost about 350 students compared with last year, mostly students transferring to private schools accepting vouchers, said Krista Stockman, the district’s spokeswoman.
“We budgeted for a loss of about 500 students, and while it’s certainly not a good thing to lose 350, we feel we are holding relatively steady,” Stockman said.
The district actually had a net gain of 10 charter students – meaning more students returned to Fort Wayne Community Schools from charter schools than the number who left to attend charter schools, she said.
The state took over four IPS schools in May and placed them under the administration of two special management teams that will oversee the schools, also diverting millions in funding away from IPS.
“We’re ecstatic with our numbers,” said John Althardt, IPS spokesman. “We are in a very competitive educational market, and because of losing four schools, we were anticipating losses of about 4,000 students.”
Sixty percent of the students in those four schools decided to stay with IPS by enrolling in one of the district’s magnet schools or a boundary IPS school, Althardt said.
“We were very encouraged by that,” he said.
The Indianapolis district has worked hard to earn parents’ trust and stay competitive against both charter schools and voucher offers, Althardt said.
“We do not have large promotional budgets – no bells or whistles,” he said. “We realize families have choices.”
The numbers show a slight increase in the number of kindergarten students, which proves that all their hard work is paying off, Althardt said.
The same education choices exist in Allen County, including a disproportionate number of private schools compared with the rest of the state, Stockman said. Last year, the state issued 392 vouchers in Allen County alone, she said.
Although it’s possible being the largest district in Indiana could bring added clout with legislators who draft education policy and budget, FWCS will continue on the path that has brought them a number of recent successes, Stockman said.
Those achievements include an A rating from the state, three years of improved achievement test scores at every grade level, a graduation rate higher than the state’s average and offering families the choice to attend any of the 51 schools in the district.
“Our main focus is quality instruction every single day,” Stockman said. “We have a reputation for doing a good job, and we will continue to do that – to provide quality education.”