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Verona Area School District administrative building March 2020.

Verona Area School District’s enrollment counts have rebounded this year after gaining back the exact number of students it lost in the 2020-21 school year.

Assistant superintendent of student services Emmett Durtschi told Verona Area Board of Education during its Monday, Oct. 4, meeting that its official count for the 2021-22 year was at 5,747 students – the same number of students the district had in the 2019-20 school year when enrollment hit an all-time high. The district lost nearly 100 students in the 2020-21 year, with enrollment dropping to 5,651, much of it due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Durtschi explained, as some families opted to homeschool their children or move them to private schools or other districts that had different COVID-19 mitigation strategies.

The district’s population plays a large part in the amount of financial aid received – should the number of students go up or down, it reflects similarly in the operating budget for the year.

Every public school district across the state saw a decrease in enrollment, Durtschi said, as families opted for private schools or decided to start their 4K or kindergarten students a year later.

“It was an unusual three years, to say the least,” he said. “We had families that were reluctant to send their students to school, not just in Verona, but across the board in other districts, too, or they decided to homeschool for the year, or they decided to open-enroll out for a virtual option they liked better … this was a phenomenon that happened across the country.”

It was a coincidence that this year’s enrollment matched 2019-20, Durtschi said with a laugh, but added that the rebound amounts to a “big positive” for the district because it means the district is able to attract students, and enrollment will continue to grow as some district families are waiting to re-enroll their students once COVID-19 vaccination is available for children ages 5-11.

“We’re expecting that (enrollment) number to continue to rise, and I suspect in January, we’ll see adjustments there in the positive in the middle of the year,” he said.

Third Friday affects taxes

The district had 5,736 students during its September 2019 Third Friday count, but the number was updated to 5,747 during the January 2020 Third Friday count to allow for students who moved in or out of a district during the first semester to be counted in the district’s population.

The student enrollment count is based on the number of students enrolled in the district as of Friday, Sept. 17 – otherwise known as the “Third Friday” count. That count is considered an official tally of a district’s population based on state law, and determines how much state aid a district receives during its annual budget process.

The additional 96 students from the year prior amounts to an additional $71,232 of per pupil aid the district can use, with $742 allocated per student. It will effectively bring in an additional $24,024 to the district’s operating budget, as per-pupil aid decreased to $742 from $750 in the state’s 2021-23 biennial budget, as the state legislature reduced per-pupil aid with the expectation that districts could use federal aid funds to offset the difference.

History of rapid growth

The district was growing rapidly in the past decade prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2010-21, district-wide enrollment was 4,722 students; five years later, in 2015, it had grown by 500 students to 5,296. 

Prior to the pandemic, the district’s enrollment had been rising by around 100 students each year since 2015, with some growth coming from open enrollment seats. The number of spots offered by the district has fluctuated based on the ability to add seats without drastically increasing operational costs, since the district receives a smaller amount of state funding for open-enroll students than it does for resident students.

The district offered 104 open-enrollment seats for 2021-22, and has offered anywhere between 30 and 104 in the last eight years.

 

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