LIMA — Few schools in the region have seen enrollment growth in the past 10 years, and it’s been minimal for most of those.
And the majority of the schools with the greatest drop are private; a trend officials said is happening around the country.
“Catholic schools are struggling nationwide. It is a continual problem,” said the Rev. Stephen Blum, of St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church.
St. Charles School is fairing best with a 9.4 percent drop. St. Gerard Catholic School struggled the most at 48.7 percent, followed by Van Wert’s St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic School at 44.8 percent.
Temple Christian School Superintendent Ken Grunden sees a lack of commitment, some because of finances, to private education. The school has dropped 32.7 percent in 10 years.
“Maybe they think they can get the same services at a public school,” he said. “Maybe they offer more sports, more interventions, a greater variety of services.”
The economy has without a doubt affected private schools. St. Charles and Lima Central Catholic, which saw an 18.3 percent decline, must raise tuition about every year, Blum said.
“If we get more students in, that would help lower the cost across the board, but every year our student population decreases, then our cost go up,” he said.
Blum said the location of St. Gerard and St. Rose of Lima Catholic School, which has dropped 35.9 percent, probably plays a part.
“The population seems to be moving more to the west end of town,” he said. “You see more condos and housing developments this way than other places.”
There had been rumors of St. Rose closing in 2006, but it was decided that the three schools and their parishes would continue to work together to promote enrollment.
Lima City Schools enrollment is down 25.8 percent from 10 years ago. The district loses students to community schools and online schools, and to private schools through vouchers.
“There are just other opportunities for education now than there was 10 years ago,” Assistant Superintendent Jill Ackerman said.
St. Charles has 60 voucher pupils. Blum said they certainly help the vitality of the school.
Open enrollment also affects Lima schools, as well as other districts. Oftentimes, a pupil qualifies for busing in a bordering district, but doesn’t at Lima schools, so they open enroll.
Mostly, Ackerman blames families leaving the city, both to outlining areas and farther away to follow a job.
“It is not just people leaving, it is people doing what they need to survive,” she said. “We’re seeing them leaving the state, more so in the past five years because of employment.”
The biggest public school decline is in Continental with a 32.4 percent drop, followed by Ottoville with a 26.9 decline. With no industry in Continental, Superintendent Gary Jones said it’s hard to attract and keep families. Many leave for jobs.
“We are very rural here and we used to have families with five or six kids,” he said. “They have all gone through the system. There are not a lot of young farm families coming back.”
The schools showing the largest growth are Apollo Career Center with 11.3 percent and Heir Force Community School with a 16.1 percent growth from the 2005-06 school year. The school opened in 2001.
“I think parents are wanting a choice in education just like any other industry or field. People want to be able to have options,” school Director Darwin Lofton said.
He said uniforms, high behavior standards, and catering to the needs of each child may play a part in the growth.
Quest Academy shows a 121.5 percent growth, but the school only offered kindergarten through third grade in 2000. It has gradually added grades. It went up to sixth-grade in 2005. It is now a kindergarten through eighth-grade building.
Ada Exempted Village School District’s 8.4 percent enrollment jump is helped by an Ohio Northern University program bringing families from Saudi Arabia to campus. Thirty of their children attend Ada schools.
Superintendent Suzanne Darmer said the new building is inviting, and said a lot of staff members enroll their children in the district.
Officials say smaller families contribute to the decline. Ottawa-Glandorf Local School District saw a 12.8 percent drop despite continued housing growth, Superintendent Kevin Brinkman.
“It is not like we are stagnate and not building things,” he said. “We are still building, but I think it just comes down to small families.”
The real issue, Brinkman said, is losing students after graduation. They don’t come back and start families here.
“Well over 80 percent of our students go onto postsecondary,” he said. “That is the part we need to focus on. We are sending our great kids away and they don’t come back.”