Declining enrollment may force staff cuts

Staff Writer

Continuing declines in enrollment will force the West Point Consolidated School District to reduce staff for next fall. And the reductions could be made worse depending on final funding from the state.

Superintendent Burnell McDonald confirmed the potential for staff reductions Friday. The numbers have not been finalized and will be impacted by retirements and teachers who aren't returning next year, he said.
A recommendation likely will be made to the Board of Education at its March 12 meeting.

"We will try to do as much as we can through attrition, but I can see us making some reductions. It's not a big number, not a dozen or anything like that. We are talking about low numbers," McDonald said.

Since the West Point and Clay County districts were forced to consolidate in July 2015, the district's enrollment in its seven schools has dropped more than 6 percent from 3.270 to 3,057 this year, according to the state Department of Education. The current number may be lower because districts tend to lose students as the year goes on.

McDonald said preliminary estimates for next year show another decline.

In the past, the district has tried to avoid staff reductions to keep pupil-teacher ratios down and keep as many teacher assistants and other support staff with teachers as possible.

"Those are things we believe improve education and learning," McDonald said. "But as enrollment continues to decline, we just can't keep taking on those extra positions, especially if the state isn't going to provide funding, it the Legislature keeps reducing funding.

"And we can't put anymore on the taxpayers. We can't go to that well and ask for more local money, we can't justify it any longer," McDonald continued, explaining the situation faced by the administration.
According to state figures, West Point's enrollment changes have been mixed, even if downward overall.

From last year to this year, enrollment fell in kindergarten, first and second grades, was up slightly in third grade, down in fourth, up slightly in fifth and sixth, and down in seventh, eighth and ninth.

Three straight years of declines in the youngest grades are part of what prompted forecasts of continued lower enrollment.

The district, which spends an average of $8,742 per student and has a 'D' rating on the state's grading system, may not know its state funding until late March or even April, meaning another round of reductions could come then if the funding numbers are down dramatically. Based on several different formulas being tossed around by state lawmakers, West Point's state funding could be reduced as much as $400,000.

"We don't know about that right now, it just depends on the formula. We are working on the enrollment numbers now and putting together scenarios for down the road, depending on what the Legislature does," McDonald said.