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The Class of 2019


Fri, Jan 22nd, 2010
Posted in Progress Edition

As the people of Fillmore County look toward the future of their graduating classes, what does that picture look like?

With statewide and local school funding so dependent upon student enrollment numbers, along with concerns about the impact of open enrollment at a rural level, every student comes with a price tag. The Class of 2019 presents our lowest price point at this moment.

Fillmore County

In Fillmore County, if you were to take the collection of all students from every grade of Kindergarten through 12th grade from all six public school districts during the 2008-2009 school year, you would see a 13-year trend worthy of considerable discussion.

According to an analysis of current trends, the projections look grim. The enrollment of 12th graders throughout all six school districts in Fillmore County (including the Chatfield School District, which teeters on the boarder of Olmsted and Fillmore counties) was 340 students during the 2008-2009 school year. This number compares to the anticipated Class of 2019 for all six Fillmore County school districts, which currently totals 228 students.

Starting with the year 2013, Fillmore County's total enrollment is anticipated to drop from 269 in 2012 to 245 students. From that point moving forward, Fillmore County's collective student enrollment estimates an average just under 249 over the next 12 years.

So, based on current student enrollment, it is anticipated that Fillmore County's collective six school district enrollment numbers will drop from 340 to an average of 249 - a loss of nearly 91 students that doesn't appear to be recoverable unless something drastically changes.

Chatfield School District

While Chatfield has made a significant statement of anticipated growth in years to come, investing over $16 million in a brand new school, the question still remains: how much growth can Chatfield expect in years to come? According to Principal Craig Ihrke, the current enrollment fills 75 percent of the total capacity, leaving another 25 percent for enrollment opportunities.

The new school will bring prospective residents to Hilltop Estates and other residential developments, but how many of those families will support their local Chatfield business community? A healthy balance of residential growth, along with local business support, has been the focus of concern for many speculators. Fewer successful businesses could lead to less funding directed at the local levy, which in turn could lead to increased residential property taxes. This juxtapose of meshing the relevance of residential growth and local business support will continue to swing in the pendulum of bedroom communities such as Chatfield, Eyota, Stewartville, Byron, Pine Island and many others. And, support for local schools will either suffer or prosper.

Proximity to Rochester continues to be a blessing and a curse.

Fillmore Central School

District

While the Fillmore Central School District continues to toggle between the prospects of a part-time shared superintendent with the Caledonia School District, or the status quo of a continued full-time position, the school district enrollment hangs in limbo. The projected decrease of 59 students in 2009 to 36 students by 2019 leaves a bad taste in the mouths of those concerned with the impact of open enrollment, always hoping to draw from a core market of Fountain, Harmony and Preston.

Kingsland School District

As the Kingsland School Board meetings are consumed with discussion regarding whether the superintendent's position should absorb the high school principal's responsibilities, the Spring Valley-based school district faces the reality of a declining enrollment of 88 students for 2009 in comparison to 49 students in 2019.

Lanesboro School District

While the Lanesboro School District has been accused of taking advantage of the state-directed open enrollment program that opened Pandora's box back in 1990, the statewide program encourages such tendencies.

From Kindergarten through 12th grade, the anticipated average number of students averages 28 students, just one student shy of last year's enrollment of 29 students. It appears, in the long-haul, that the Lanesboro School District has a pragmatic consideration.

Mabel-Canton School District

North Winneshiek may be the saving grace for the Mabel-Canton School District, nearly doubling class sizes after eighth grade, however, the stark reality is that classes are ranging from 13 to 28 students over the next several years.

Rushford-Peterson School District

As the Rushford-Peterson School District vies for the support of a brand new school, some may question the necessity. The reality is that Rushford appears to be in the best position of any school district in Fillmore County. With an average of over 48 students in 2009, the average student enrollment projected for 2019 equals 49 students - just one student above the 13-year average. While this may not seem significant, it is.

Shared Opportunities

With so many Fillmore County residents concerned about the impact of open enrollment, it appears that population growth should be a greater focus - since that has a direct overall influence on the long-term future of student enrollment.

According to 2000 U.S. Cenus Bureau data, the Fillmore County population of individuals three years and over that were enrolled in school boasted a total of 4,306 students, excluding 296 attending nursery school and preschool along with 493 attending college or graduate school. Compared to the 2007/2008 U.S. Census Bureau estimates, the county's school enrollment dropped to 3,254, excluding 428 attending nursery school and preschool along with 785 attending college or graduate school. Of course, the 2007/2008 figures are merely estimates, and the 2010 U.S. Census data collection should paint a more current and accurate picture.

As school boards wage budget wars, Fillmore County residents wrestle with the reality of a stagnant population coupled with trends and projections for a declining student population.

The significance of smaller classrooms may signal an alarm for taxpayers to prompt school board officials and administrators to consider collaborations at a countywide level.

Chatfield's Superintendent Don Hainlen just retired effective January 12; Mabel-Canton's Superintendent Marcia Love retired effective December 31, 2009; Fillmore Central is discussing possible terms of retirement or a part-time shared Superintendent role for Myrna Luehmann; and the Kingsland School Board is even discussing whether there is a need for a full-time superintendent - currently Darrin Strosahl.

With budget cuts and program funding in jeopardy, are there opportunities to share resources?

Collectively, during the 2008-2009 school year, Fillmore County paid $530,773 to six superintendents: Chatfield paid $103,000, Fillmore Central paid $85,000 in wages plus an additional $12,000 stipend that has continued into the 2009-2010 school year, Kingsland paid $78,413, Lanesboro paid $100,360, Mabel-Canton paid $60,000, and Rushford-Peterson paid $92,000. None of these figures include benefits, which would compound these numbers greatly.

There will be some tough decisions to be made now and in the years to come.

Some Fillmore County residents speculate about the prospects of a countywide school. And, they always follow up that comment with, "But, where would it be located?"

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