This week’s featured question was submitted for MAPS Superintendent Dr. John Sample
The question reads:
“I keep hearing so much about declining enrollment but how does it happen? What is causing our kids to leave MAPS? Has the district found the root of the problem and what are they doing to fix it? When did it start and how many kids have we lost? Where do they go? I’m sorry for all the questions but this has me really bothered! Because from what I have heard, it sounds like that is the root of our problem and why the district needs help!”
Answer as given by Dr. Sample:
“Thank you for the opportunity to address declining enrollment, as it is important to the district and the community. Many factors result in declining enrollment, not only as an issue for our district, but as a problem for most of Wisconsin.
“Rural districts have been particularly impacted by declining enrollment. A 2016 report from the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that the number of students has gone down in nearly 75% of rural districts. A recent report from Apptegy found that the average difference in enrollment for rural districts during this timeframe is a loss of 52 students. That is huge. It means that the districts losing students are precisely those that can least afford to.
“Of the 106 students that are currently open enrolled out of the district, 73 of those students have never attended MAPS. The reasons the parents open enroll their children out of district vary, but most of these students are attending school districts based on their parents’ location of employment. For example, parents may live in Merrill but work in Wausau or other neighboring districts. The remaining 33 students are attending neighboring school districts or have chosen to enroll in a virtual school other than our own Bridges Virtual Academy (BVA).
“The birth rate trend for Lincoln County also shows a decline. Births in 1995 numbered 320 while the births recorded in 2015 are 276, a decline of 44 births.
“The 320 babies born in Lincoln County in 1995 translated to 236 seniors at the high school 18 years later. However, the 329 babies born in Lincoln County resulted in our smallest senior class to date – 161 students in 2017-2018. The difference in birth rate to students shows discrepancies. While there are two school districts in Lincoln County, birth rate numbers are only indicated by county.
“The census data for the population of Merrill also supports our declining enrollment. Please refer to the table below comparing 2000 census data for Merrill to the census data for 2010:
“The largest population decrease in Merrill, between 2000 and 2010, is represented by our school-aged persons at -10.16%.
“In looking at our own Third Friday Enrollment numbers, the official enrollment count we send to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, in 2000 we had 3,339 students physically present in our district. In 2010, there were 3,015 students enrolled, a decrease of 9.02%.
“The root causes of our declining enrollment mainly comes down to a decreasing population in Merrill. We are still gathering data from those families that live in Merrill but have chosen to open enroll their children elsewhere.
“The biggest question: What are we doing to fix it? MAPS began the Four-Year-Old Kindergarten (4K) in 2010. This includes providing instruction to our 4-year-olds at Pine River School for Young Learners and four additional community sites. Our 4K learners generate 60% of our per pupil revenue as opposed to the 100% of our students enrolled in Kindergarten through Twelfth Grade.
“In 2009, we started discussions with the community to determine if we could meet the needs of those choosing to homeschool their children or open enroll out to neighboring districts. This led to what is now known as the Bridges Virtual Academy. While non-resident students attending BVA are not included in our enrollment count for revenue limit or student aid, they become a separate revenue source for the district. This year, BVA’s enrollment has increased to 744 students.
We have enhanced our Summer School program as a means of bridging the drop in student achievement between the Spring and Fall semesters. This allows us to count students enrolled in summer school using the state’s formula.
“In an effort to meet the needs of our families, we also survey our MAPS parents and the beginning and end of each school year soliciting their feedback. These surveys measure the level of parent satisfaction in our buildings and allow us to make positive change based on the parents’ responses.
“Partnering with our Chamber of Commerce and area businesses has MAPS trying to keep our students informed of local employment opportunities. By allowing our community partners into our school, we hope to educate our students as to the opportunities that exist for them locally. We empower our students to have choices in what they may do to be productive citizens. Our students engage in Academic and Career Planning in order to pursue their interests. Depending on the area of employment they choose pursue, it is important for all of us that they are aware of the opportunities offered by our wonderful community.”
Have a question or concern you would like to address? Simply send your question or concern to firstname.lastname@example.org along with an indication of which entity your question or concern pertains to. Current participants are the Merrill Police Department, Merrill Fire Department, Tomahawk Police Department, Lincoln County Administrative Coordinator Randy Scholz, Merrill City Administrator Dave Johnson, Merrill Area Housing Authority Director Paul Russell, Lincoln County Clerk Chris Marlowe and Merrill Area Public Schools (MAPS) Superintendent Dr. john sample. Please note: Those who submit to the ‘Ask an Official’ feature remain anonymous.