Student attendance matters every day in the Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS), but especially so on Count Day, when state funding for Michigan's 1.5 million public and charter school students is calculated according to the number of pupils present.
Yesterday, TCAPS surveyed 21 elementary, middle and high schools in its district, as well as its early childhood and shared-time programs, to get a picture of what most of its 2013-2014 school year budget will look like. 10 percent of the per-pupil allowance from the Michigan School Aid Fund is determined by a winter Count Day held in February, while the remaining 90 percent – the largest source of revenue for state school districts – is calculated via October's count.
Overall, preliminary results show that TCAPS' enrollment has remained steady since 2012, with only a slight dip in total district-wide head count from 10,053 students in 2012 to 10,030 students this year. Schools with the most significant increases in student population included Central Grade School (28), Cherry Knoll Elementary School (25) and Central High School (24), while schools suffering the biggest losses included East Middle School (-40), Courtade Elementary School (-31) and Montessori at Glenn Loomis (-28).
Yesterday's report shows the district has significantly more “school of choice” students – those who opt to enroll in a non-residential district – choosing to enroll in TCAPS than are leaving for other districts. The school system, which has approximately 770 elementary school students this fall, can also add another 190 additional full-time equivalent students to its count as a result of its shared-time program, under which private and parochial students take classes taught by TCAPS instructors.
TCAPS Superintendent Steve Cousins tells The Ticker that in spite of minor population fluctuations – the causes of which the district will analyze – enrollment has “remained consistent” the last three or four years, allowing TCAPS to budget strategically without fear of student population upheaval that has plagued other troubled Michigan school districts.
“The preliminary results (from Wednesday) are very close to what we planned on and budgeted for this year,” says Cousins, noting that while the Count Day funding mechanism has both “positives and negatives” for Michigan schools, it tends to be most equitable for districts with stable enrollments. (A budget draft by TCAPS released in June of this year shows the district was planning on 10,043 students for its fall enrollment, just 13 more than yesterday's count.)
While TCAPS is fortunate not to be among the 56 school districts in the state currently operating with a budget deficit, it is also in the bottom tier of recipients of state aid, receiving the state minimum of $7,026 per student. That means the district is far from out of the woods budget-wise, with TCAPS' upcoming bond proposals in the November election – one a $35.2 million long-term capital plan, the other a $12.9 million proposal to reconstruct Central High School auditorium – comprising a key component of the district's future plans.
In the meantime, TCAPS has five weeks to finalize and submit its Count Day figures to the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District, which will verify and then forward the numbers on to the state by March. Pupils not in attendance on Count Day may still be counted for up to 30 calendar days afterward if they have an excused absence, 10 days afterward if they have an unexcused absence and 45 days afterward if they are suspended – a safety net that means the district's final numbers may not be completely finalized until November.