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Fayette schools have unused space for 4,791 more students

The Fayette County Board of Education tentatively adopted the FY 2011-2012 General Fund budget on June 7. And while the budget will be balanced using the majority of the fund balance from June 30, such an approach will not work the following year unless the state and local economies recover at lightning speed or unless millions in expenses are cut.

One of the falling revenue sources is linked to falling student enrollment. The Citizen recently looked at current and past enrollment numbers at the individual schools and the percentage of student capacity at each school.

Superintendent Jeff Bearden in recent board meetings, along with several board members, noted the need to begin addressing the looming fiscal issues that will present themselves less than a year from now as board members consider the adoption of the FY 2012-2013 budget. Enrollment and the student capacities (the maximum number of students per facility) at the schools around Fayette County may or may not be a part of those discussions that are expected to begin in August.

The tentative FY 2011-2012 General Fund budget approved on June 7 has revenues of $170.23 million and expenses of $186.66 million, a difference of $16.43 million. The school board agreed to use $16.43 million of an expected June 30 fund balance of $25 million to help balance the FY 2011-2012 budget. In doing so the projected fund balance for June 30, 2012 would be $8.6 million, clearly nowhere near enough money to make up the difference if next year’s expenses continue to outstrip revenues.

In terms of state dollars (referred to as Quality Basic Education funds), Fayette receives approximately $4,000 per student. And as enrollment continues its multi-year decline the amount of state dollars, and presumably the number of teaching and/or parapro positions, continues to fall.

The school board in the upcoming meetings will likely hear from Bearden on a number of potential measures that could keep the school system in the black come next year.

While those meetings are yet to occur and the topics of discussion have not been announced, The Citizen decided to look at the school system’s falling enrollment and the student capacity around the county.

Student enrollment in Fayette County schools climbed through the county’s decades of rapid economic and population growth, mirroring that of metro Atlanta. Point in fact, still today 73 percent of Fayette residents leave the county each day to work predominantly in the Hartsfield Airport, downtown Atlanta or north metro areas.
And like the overall county population, enrollment at Fayette schools saw a continued expansion as the 21st century began. Enrollment in 2001 was 19,832 and peaked at 22,367 in 2007.

Likely fueled by a host of recessionary and other factors, enrollment began to fall by 2008 and, as of the school year that just ended, student enrollment was just over 21,000. That puts enrollment at Fayette schools back at the 2002-2003 level, essentially reversing nearly a decade of growth.

The figures below show the yearly growth of enrollment across the school district.

2001 - 19,240
2002 - 20,817
2003 - 21,239
2004 - 21,624
2005 - 22,338
2006 - 22,291
2007 - 22,367
2008 - 22,108
2009 - 22,047
2010 - 21,683
2011 - 21,080 (as of May 2011)

Time will tell what happens with student enrollment, both in the new school year in August and beyond, though some projections show a continued moderate decrease in enrollment in the next couple of years.

Enrollment during the past few years does not appear to be significantly affected by students either home-schooled or attending private schools. Information supplied by the school system in March showed that for the past five years the number of students in both categories remained relatively constant at total of approximately 2,000 students.

And even with those numbers, the school system still receives the local property tax dollars, but not state dollars, for home-schooled and private school students even though they do not attend public schools.

And pertaining to local property tax dollars, The Fayette County tax digest will be out in a few weeks, with the value of the county expected to fall 4-5 percent this year.

As for the upcoming meetings to address budget issues beginning in FY 2012-2013, few would likely envy the task ahead for the school board and the school system.

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