The academic excellence in Utica Community Schools is helping to stabilize student enrollment, but school funding will remain a challenge if increases to state aid remain well under inflation, according to recent study.
Paul Wills, a partner with Plante Moran CRESA, said in a Jan. 23 report that the district’s reputation is a significant factor in stabilizing student enrollment declines.
“Utica Community Schools continues to be a destination district,” Wills said. “The challenge the district is going to have is that even though your enrollment is relatively flat, your operational costs are going to continue to go up and state aid funding is not keeping up (with inflation).”
Student enrollment is a key variable for determining revenue.
For 2016-2017, the district experienced a decline of 180 students due to falling birth rates for a total enrollment of 27,954. Enrollment is expected to fall slightly over the next school year but begin to stabilize beginning in 2018-2019.
In making the report to the Board of Education, Wills noted several enrollment trends that impact UCS:
Nearly all districts in southeast Michigan are experiencing enrollment losses due to declining birth rates. In Macomb County alone, birth rates have dropped from a high of 10,449 in 1990 to 9,052 children born in 2011 – the birth year for students currently enrolled in kindergarten.
Despite new housing in the district, the units under construction are predominantly multi-housing units that do not generate significant numbers of students.
The district’s population overall is continuing to grow older, with the current median family age now at 52.6.
Wills said a factor that is helping to stabilize enrollment in the district is that the percentage of Macomb County births that eventually enroll in UCS kindergarten has grown almost two percentages points - from 18.16 percent to nearly 20 percent.
“The problem you have is (birth rates) are down 1,000 students” over the past ten years in Macomb County, he said.
Another stabilizing factor for UCS is that once enrolled, families remain in the district through graduation. The growth in the number of elementary and junior high school students are “a testament to the great programs Utica offers,” Wills said.
Plante Moran CRESA is a group that provides demographic information for companies seeking relocation or for economic purposes.
The firm also provides enrollment projections for school districts using demographic information, community trends, historical enrollment and live births. The validity of the Plante Moran CRESA enrollment projections is recognized by the Michigan Department of Treasury.