SEBRING — Student enrollment in Highlands County’s public schools is down significantly and is on track to be the third biggest decline in 20 years.
Assistant Superintendent Mike Averyt said it appears the district will be down by a total of 130 students in the 2018-19 school year.
The district had predicted a decrease of seven students.
Averyt said when you project out a year it is hard to accurately predict what the enrollment will be.
The biggest enrollment drop in the past 10 years, and second biggest drop in 20 years, was a decrease of 150 students in the 2009-10 school year when there was a slow down in the economy.
With a decrease of 370 students, the 1999-2000 school year had the biggest drop in enrollment in the past 20 years.
After Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in 2017, the school district had an influx of students from the Island territory.
Is part of the drop in enrollment due to some of those displaced students and their families leaving the district to return to Puerto Rico or move elsewhere?
Averyt responded, “We are speculating the same thing; it is hard to say, buy yes, that probably has something to do with it.”
With the drop in enrollment the district’s state funding will be down about $300,000 to $400,000, he said. Some of the students have switched from basic education to ESE, which provides more money for the district so the decline won’t be as bad as a straight drop of 130 students.
Three schools were down by a large amount of students — Cracker Trail, Lake Placid, Sun ‘N Lake elementary schools, Averyt noted. There were some increases at other schools.
Enrollment fluctuates throughout the year and peaks during the winter months with the influx of migrant families.
State funding is based in part on the student count during the October and February enrollment survey weeks.
A comparison of the February enrollment numbers from 2018 and 2019 shows the following:
• The elementary school total is down 217.
• The middle school total is down down 18.
• The high school total is down 79.
At the elementary level, Lake Placid Elementary and Lake Country Elementary are down 85 and 27, respectively, and Sun ‘N Lake Elementary and Cracker Trail Elementary are down 81 and 58, respectively.
Woodlawn Elementary had a significant increase of 56 students compared to a year ago.
The biggest change at the middle school level was at Avon Park Middle, which had a drop of 58 students.
Sebring High’s enrollment was down 67.
The district’s grand total enrollment was down 274.
The grand total includes the Academy at Youth Care Lane, Highlands Virtual School, hospital homebound, jail program and pre-kindergarten ESE.