The Effect of Declining Enrollment

As assistant superintendent of Kentwood Public Schools, Mike Zoerhoff diffused a few major issues, one of them being a tense, 18-month-long contract negotiation that caused a rift between teachers and administrators. Now as superintendent, he's dealing with another, more long-term issue: declining enrollment. As America matures, it's staring to follow the way of European countries where families are only having one or two kids. The birth rate has been declining for a while now, which leads to less students in schools, less people graduating from college, and, eventually, less people entering the workforce. Low enrollment is a big problem for schools since it plays a large part in determining how much funding a school receives.

So how does a superintendent deal with a shrinking amount of students and funding? It's especially difficult to juggle because, despite having less students, a school might still need to provide the same amount of bus routes, offer a full set of courses, provide the same amount of resources for students...there's a certain amount of resources a school has to provide no matter how many students are attending. And closing a school is a very difficult political decision. That's lot of people potentially out of a job, students who now have to transfer to a different school with all new teachers, kids, facilities. But there may be a way to negate some of the negative aspects of closing a school. When Mike Zoerhoff was forced to close one of Kentwood's elementary schools, he was able to reopen it as an early childhood center. Reusing buildings in this way allows schools to recycle some of their resources and puts a positive spin on a difficult situation. Students won't pass by their old school and see an empty, dark building, but instead a building that is serving people in another way.

If you can look past the budget cuts and declining enrollment, you may be able to see an opportunity for improvement. Less students means more competition among schools and more pressure to innovate. Now more than ever, schools will need to look forward and create progressive, unique programs to attract new students. In school, we teach our students to face challenges so they learn to think critically and become stronger for the future. Now it's time for our schools to do the same.