Online schools becoming more popular, increasing Ingham's enrollment

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By Erin Eschels
Ingham County Chronicle staff writer

Helen McNamara address the Board of Education

Helen McNamara address the Board of Education

This year’s total enrollment has gone up from about 800 to 1,500 students in the school district. However, some of this 115 percent increase includes virtual students, which seems to be picking up.

On Feb. 18, the Ingham Intermediate School District Board of Education had their regular meeting at the Thorburn Education Center in Mason, Mich. The members of the board discussed topics dealing with enrollment, budgets, and position changes within the district.

Since the fall of 2013, Great Lakes Cyber Academy opened its website to students grades 9-12 in Michigan. This year alone, the site has acquired 246 students in Ingham County. Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Business Helen McNamara says that though this academy is not technically located within the school district, online students who reside in Ingham County are counted in total enrollment.

According to the board, 9 percent of their service area are cyber students, which increased overall enrollment this year by 1 percent. Without online students, the school district’s enrollment fell by 1 percent.

Schools of Choice program

Ingham Intermediate School District also offers a program within the county called “Schools of Choice,” where Ingham students can choose which school district they’d like to be a part of, even if they reside in a different district. This year there are 4,890 students involved in the program, which makes up 12 percent of ISD. Though Lansing has the highest enrollment in the 12 districts, it is also one of two school districts, along with Mason Area Schools, with more students opting to leave than those coming in.

With all the changes this year in enrollment, the board’s budget also has some adjustments. At the meetings on Dec. 2 and Jan. 28, the board made projections on this year’s budget.

“In determining our budget for the year, we think about the question, ‘What happened last year?’ said McNamara. “This helps us estimate where we need to make changes in the budget.”

McNamara showed the board how projections have been altered. Property taxes were less than expected, which is a positive improvement in the budget. Improvements like this allow money to go elsewhere in helping the schools.

For example, under the capital projects category, the budget for “Career and Technical Education” increased by $200,000 for later projects. According to the Director of Information Technology Services Daryl Tilley there is also money for a couple school districts to receive new technology in the next few years.

On the other hand, there is no new money coming from the state, which is reason for staff position changes within the district. According to Superintendent Stanley Kogut, the positions are measured on efficiency and impact in the community. They are also directly related to students in the classroom. If numbers do not improve, some positions may be reduced or eliminated, such as an instructor position within the Computer Science Academy, which has already been reduced by half of the full-time equivalent.

Positions regarding the Autism Spectrum Disorder program have also been reduced, but Kogut says there is another place for them since new positions were created as Teacher Consultants in the program. Even with all the various position adjustments, the superintendent is confident that the changes will not be harmful to the community.

“We will about break even in all the reductions and additions,” said Kogut. “Probably no one will lose their jobs, as it will most likely be an even wash.”

The next Board of Education meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. March 18 at the Thorburn Education Center and is open to the public.

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