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School enrollment rises, but not as much as predicted

POSTED: September 3, 2008 5:01 a.m.
TOM REED/The Times

Joselyn Rocha looks over her notes in Eileen Toledo's eighth-grade language arts class at Gainesville Middle School.

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This year’s early enrollment numbers show both that Hall County and Gainesville school systems added fewer students this year than projected. And according to unofficial numbers, the Hall County system took on substantially fewer Hispanic students than expected.

Staggering enrollment projections released last year had school board members bracing for the onslaught of students expected to move in from Gwinnett County in upcoming years, yet student enrollment numbers taken so far this year show classrooms might not be as crowded as predicted.

For the past 10 years, the Hall County school system has added from 400 to 800 students each year, said Hall County school system Superintendent Will Schofield. But this year, the system of nearly 26,000 students only added about 100 students.

Projections a year ago suggested the Hall County school system would gain 1,100 students this year. Schofield said numbers in the spring suggested growth would be about 800 new students, but by June, it was estimated the student population only would grow by about 400.

"We have about 100 more students in the district this year, so we still have a little more growth, but it has appeared our growth has slowed tremendously in a one year period of time," Schofield said.

"Almost all of our growth for the last several years has been Hispanic, so when you talk about growth slowing, our first guess before you see the numbers is that Hispanic growth is slowing because that’s been the lion’s share of our growth in the last decade."

While the county school system won’t break enrollment numbers down by ethnicity until the 20th day of the school year, early enrollment numbers suggest the Hispanic growth is falling off.

In the two weeks preceding the beginning of this school year, the Hall County school system had about 90 students register at its international center on R.W. Johnson Drive, compared to 155 students who registered at that location last year.

"What led us to believe that maybe we’re seeing a decrease in immigration were those numbers at our international center, where we register students," Schofield said. "I really can’t begin to speculate why that is."

In March 1999, Hispanic students made up 14.4 percent of the Hall County school system. By March 2008, that had grown to 33.6 percent, or 8,490 Hispanic students.

Merrianne Dyer, interim superintendent of the Gainesville school system, said the district of about 6,000 students expected roughly 400 additional students this year, but only about 200 additional students were enrolled in the system on the 10th day of the school year.

She said the district maintained a 54 percent Latino student population this year as compared to last. Hispanic students accounted for 55 percent of the city system’s growth this year.

"Few of those (3,239 Hispanic students this year) were not born in the U.S.," Dyer said. "Our Hispanic influx started in 1986 to ’87 in small numbers and in large numbers in 1995. ... Now we’re seeing the second generation of children."

Ultimately, Schofield said it’s not a bad thing actual student enrollment isn’t as high as projected. But the state does allocate funds based on the number of students in school systems, so fewer students means less money.

"When that number of students don’t show up, then the bottom line is you probably hired a few more teachers and have a few more classrooms than you needed," he said. "The serendipitous benefit will be class sizes will be a little bit smaller ... The negative side is that will cost more money because we won’t get as much money from the state."



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