Madison County’s Superintendent of Schools Pam Birkeland gave the Madison County Commissioners a report on all area schools last week. The report, which evaluates student enrollment, special education needs, gender ratios and even transportation numbers, helps Birkeland and the schools determine a budget for the next fiscal year.
“We’re down 12 kids in the county,” said Birkeland, as she presented data from the most recent fiscal year, which ended this fall. “Here’s a really interesting statistic, we have 28 less fifth graders.”
Birkeland said statistics depend on the grade level. Perhaps there were more kindergartners this year, or the county lost a lot of seniors in May.
“We see a lot of movement in the county since we’re so small,” said Birkeland.
According to the data reported by Birkeland, Alder is down four kids, Ennis is down 11, Harrison is up five, Sheridan Elementary School is down 11 and the high school is up six. Twin Bridges’ numbers stayed close to last year’s figures.
Birkeland said she did not know the exact reason enrollment was down countywide, but said a couple families switched to homeschooling this year. There are 63 students in homeschool settings for the 2017-2018 school year.
“Where I see the most movement is in and out of homeschool,” said Birkeland.
The commissioners questioned Birkeland about homeschooling and how families are held accountable for students getting the education they need.
“How are we able to know if they are getting what they need?” asked Commissioner Dan Allhands.
Birkeland said homeschooled students do correspondence work and turn in hours completed to her office, but that there is no real accountability.
“There’s no mechanism for me to see the curriculum,” she said.
Birkeland also said homeschooled students have access to various service needs through the county, such as special education services or after school programs, but often do not participate.
Birkeland also reported that costs for special education services are again on the rise, without funding help from the state.
“Costs are going up because more students are being identified with more complicated needs and over the years, the legislature has not increased funding for special education or co-ops,” said Birkeland.
While Madison County is not seeing as many special education needs as other schools, Birkeland said there will still be an effect.
“Small schools like Alder have to belong to a co-op and pay into those fees,” she said. “And those fees are going up and (there is) no help from the state to pay those costs.”