Any decrease hits district in the already-tight pocketbook

By Elliot Mann

Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

Classes will be more crowded in Rochester schools this fall, but fewer students will be moving through the halls, according to district projections expected to be released tonight.

School district staff forecasts enrollment of 16,327, or a decrease of 25 students from the October 2008 enrollment. The projected decrease is less than 1 percent of the district’s enrollment. The new estimate is 120 students less than what the district estimated last year for the 2009-2010 school year.

"With the economy the way it is, we want to try and be conservative," district finance director Larry Smith said.


A decrease would hit the district in the wallet, as state funding is based on enrollment numbers.

With fewer students, the district can expect less revenue. The district has not yet updated financial projections for next year, but even after cutting $9.3 million for the upcoming year, another round of million-dollar cuts are expected.

Typically, job layoffs in a community would cause enrollment numbers to slide, but Smith said, the announced layoffs at companies around Rochester haven’t been much different from what has been going on around the state and nation.

The unemployment rate in Olmsted County was at 6.7 percent in March, up from 4.1 percent a year ago. But it’s the lowest in the region and fifth-lowest among Minnesota counties. Statewide, the unadjusted jobless rate is 8.8 percent and nationwide it’s 8.9 percent.

"It’s not good anywhere in the country and when you look at Minnesota, Olmsted County is better off than most other counties," Smith said.

In 20 years, the district’s enrollment has grown by about 2,900 students. But much of that occurred in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

From 1988 to 1994, the number of students jumped by 2,000. But during the past decade, the amount of students enrolling in the local public school system has increased by less than 200 students total. The percentage of eligible students in the district that attend Rochester schools has remained about the same, 82.5 percent.

As of Friday, the school district has an enrollment of 16,159, good for seventh-largest in the state. That dropped by about 200 students since October.


About 90 students left the district within the first month or two of school, Smith said, with many of them belonging to migrant families who move south for the winter.

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