School enrollment impacts staffing

LIMA — Over the past few decades, area school system have evolved. There are now several options for students from public school to private school or online learning.

In the area, the enrollment of students is down around 10.9% from the past 10 years, according to enrollment statistics from the Ohio Department of Education.

As part of the 31st annual public salary review by The Lima News, schools shared their different experiences and ways they handled the change.

Number of students in the region

In Allen, Auglaize and Putnam County, there were a total of 27,152 students enrolled in public school this year. Ten years ago, there were a total of 30,467.

“Over the past few years, our enrollment has stayed fairly steady,” Lima City Schools Superintendent Jill Ackerman said. “It tends to go up and down. For example, this year’s graduating class is fairly small. Next year’s graduating class is big.”

Spencerville Superintendent Brian Woods said the school has also had “steady enrollment” over the past 10 years. In the 2023-2024 school year, the school had an enrollment size of 1,002. In the 2014-2015 school year, the school had an enrollment size of 962.

Enrollment impact on staffing

As the number of students changes each year, the schools analyze how many staff members are needed. The Lima schools address the changes by moving teachers as needed.

“We look at it (staffing) every single year,” Ackerman said. “We go through and assess class numbers. We look at every building and will look at every class. We have always tried to do and make changes through ‘right-sizing.’ If I need to eliminate a teacher in one building, I will add a teacher in another.”

For Elida, the school focuses on the needs of the students and makes the decision accordingly.

“(The decrease in enrollment) makes class sizes smaller,” Elida Superintendent Joel Mengerink said. “We are trying to be responsible with what our level of staffing looks like. At the same time, today’s students in general have a higher level of needs that we have to work with. Whether that be disabilities, mental health or behavioral issues. It is a balancing act.”

Changes in population

One factor in the changes in enrollment is population. In 2000, the total population in Allen, Auglaize and Putnam County was 189,416. In 2023, the total population was 181,087.

“If you look at the population of Allen County, it’s been trending down for about 25 years,” Mengerink said. “The trend would follow in education enrollments also. When you look at it further, I think you add to the fact that families are having fewer kids today and some are in single-parent homes. This combination of factors has an impact on enrollment.”

Mengerink also said Elida had around 3,000 students in the mid-90s. Today, Elida school district has around 2,200 students enrolled.

“Before COVID, we were holding pretty steady at around 2,400 to 2,500 students,” Mengerink. “When COVID hit, we saw a quick drop of about 200 students. The pandemic kind of ballooned homeschooling. More families just pulled their kids out for online or homeschool. Some of them have just never returned since then.”

According to the United States Census Bureau website, the rate of homeschooling was 3.3% before COVID-19. In the fall of 2020-2021, the homeschooling rate went to 11.1% nationally.

New programming

As a result of societal changes, schools have increased the availability for students to learn a trade before graduating high school. The Lima schools expanded their welding, construction, audio engineering and agricultural programs.

“With the need of our workforce, especially in Allen County, we are very cognizant of that,” Ackerman said. “We know college isn’t for everybody and we certainly don’t push that — As time goes on and technology changes, the workforce changes. We have taken a look at programs we already had and grown them.”

Temple Christian School has also partnered with Ohio Means Jobs to help prepare students for future careers.

“Fewer students are going to four-year colleges,” Superintendent Bruce Bowman said. “I think the national statistic was less than 50% of high school grads. There’s a need for the developing skills for those students to go into the workforce.”

Private schooling

Temple Christian recently saw an increase in students and has plans to expand the school. According to Bowman, the school has seen an increase of 35% in enrollment over the past 10 years. The school has also purchased the building previously known as Lima Manor to aid with the needs of more students.

“In the past year, we were up about 15%,” Bowman said. “That was a good healthy growth for us. We have doubled classes where necessary. For example, I have two third-grade classes this year.”

Bowman also said in the school year of 2023-2024, Temple Christian had a total of 315 students. In the year prior, the school had 271 students enrolled.

Ohio is recognizing the importance of allowing families to choose the education for their children,” Bowman said. “We benefit from the choice expansive scholarship program. More parents are using the state-funded scholarships to seek out the private education they weren’t able to seek out before.”

Reach Precious Grundy at at 567-242-0351.