NEW CUMBERLAND-A sharp decline in enrollment in Hancock County Schools will mean less money from the state in the 2013-2014 school year, the school board learned this week.
Superintendent Suzan Smith told the board that the annual October head count revealed the loss of 131 students since the last school year-from 4,312 in 2011 to 4,181 in the current year.
School districts in West Virginia do a second-month head count every year. The count that the state uses to compute its level of per-student assistance is the full-time equivalent enrollment, which excludes part-time students.
The drop in enrollment means Hancock County faces the prospect of losing $600,000 in state aid next year, Smith said. "Obviously, we are going to have to make up that money," she said. The school district has an annual budget of $40 million.
Smith raised the possibility of staff cuts through early retirement or attrition as a way to make up for the anticipated loss in state funding.
"We are going to be looking at everything, including personnel. We'll see what we can do through attrition and look for other ways to make up the funding," she said. "With a loss of 131 students, you've got to make some choices."
Smith said she's not sure why county-wide enrollment dropped so precipitously from one school year to the next.
"As each year goes by, we have fewer students entering. We've had a drop in enrollment every year for several years, but not to this extent," she said. "I think this is statewide. Many of our counties in West Virginia are experiencing the same thing."
In the last five years, Hancock County's enrollment has been up and down, according to the West Virginia Department of Education: 4,268 (2007-2008); 4,296 (2008-2009); 4,282 (2009-2010); 4,288 (2010-2011); 4,312 (2011-2012).
Smith said the enrollment losses are spread throughout the county, meaning cuts cannot be made in bus runs.
"There's a lot of things you cannot eliminate," she said. "We want to do things that have the least amount of disruption to the educational process."
One thing that's stabilized enrollment is the growing pre-kindergarten program, Smith said. With universal pre-K in effect, Hancock County must offer the program to students whose parents want them to attend, she said.
The district is adding three pre-K classrooms each to New Manchester Elementary School and Allison Elementary School in Chester as part of a larger renovation project for both schools. The classrooms are expected to be completed in time for the 2013-2014 school year.