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Why should we care about school enrollment?

Two of the three school systems in the county reported an overall decrease in student enrollment, according to average daily membership (ADM) reports sent to the state education department.

The reason? — the economy and the flu.

Each year, systems are required to submit 40-day enrollment numbers. Those numbers, which are gathered based on the first 20 days of school after Labor Day, are used to determine the level of state funding for a system — which includes teacher salaries.

Locally, Covington County Schools reported a 33-student loss from 2008 and Opp City Schools reported a 16-student loss. Andalusia City Schools reported an increase of 40 students.

Terry Holley, CCS interim superintendent, and Opp superintendent Michael Smithart both agreed the declining economy and increasing instances of sickness had a direct impact on their system’s enrollment numbers.

“Covington County is a transit area,” Holley said. “We have a lot of people coming in and out of our system. With the economy today, we have people who are moving closer to family. That can work two ways. It can help with the economy and the schools if they move here, but there is also the opposite. I think (enrollment) will pick up as the year goes along.”

“We had the flu, too, during this time,” Holley said. “So we might have lost some numbers there. Hopefully, though, that will be adjusted later.”

While Holley said while “one or two students were lost at each school,” Fleeta Jr. High was the most affected by the decrease in students.

“Overall, when you look at the adjustments, there could be the possibility of losing one (teaching) unit or a little more,” he said. “They’re starting to work on next year’s budget, and we’re worried. We’re concerned about it. These numbers are very crucial. We’ve been in proration the last two years and feel like it will be the same next year. We just have to hope the economy turns around.”

In Opp, the elementary school lost 87 students while the middle school and high school gained 62 and nine, respectively.

“What that means for us, at the current way it’s determined by the state, is (we lose) about a half of a teaching unit,” Smithart said. “But that will be in addition to any other cuts we receive next year. These numbers are our one chance at funding. I think that the economy and flu obviously affected our attendance rate, but I think that’s going to be a statewide issue. It will be interesting to see how that’s handled.

“Of course, we’re disappointed to lose any students,” he said. “Although 16 to us is too high, in light of the economic situation, I think it’s a pretty good number.”

In Andalusia, the biggest portion of the 60-student system-wide increase was seen at the elementary school, where 28 new students were counted. The middle school reported a decrease of two and the high school an increase of 14. Overall, 1,718 students are enrolled in the Andalusia City Schools.

Calls to Andalusia Superintendent Beverly McAnulty for comment were not immediately returned.