Declining enrollment can cause planning problems

RACINE -- The Racine Unified School District has seen declining enrollment in recent years and officials have learned to plan for it.

Whether the loss is due to the economy, population trends, people moving out of the district, open enrollment, or the voucher program, Unified finance officials have come up with student loss projections, stated as percentages, RUSD Deputy Chief Financial Officer Marc Duff said.

The losses range from about 2 percent to 3 percent a year in kindergarten through fifth grade to 6 percent to 8 percent for sixth grade, Duff said. In high school, the district often doesn't see a lot of losses, he said. In fact, it

often gains students back, Duff said.

"Some of our principals ... may think, based on the numbers in their student databases: 'Well we are going to have 300 sixth-graders coming, I need more staff.' And then the central office will say: 'It is unlikely you are going to have all those kids, because we lose a lot of kids to these other schools,' " he explained.

Although the district presumes it will be losing kids based on those trends, it doesn't know from what schools, grades or classes, Duff said.

Not knowing can result in a teacher walking into a class of 10 rather than 25 kids, he explained.

The district attempts to make adjustments to make sure it meets class-size guidelines once the school year is in full swing, Duff said. Sometimes that means adding a teacher at a school for an overcrowded class. Other times it means moving a teacher from a class with a very small number of students to an overcrowded class at a different grade level.

There are also instances where the district, or perhaps even a specific school, will lose more students than expected.

Knapp Elementary School, 2701 17th St., for instance, saw its enrollment drop by more than 23 percent this school year -- from 419 to 322 students -- according to preliminary enrollment data from the state Department of Public Instruction.

Gilmore Middle School, 2330 Northwestern Ave., saw its enrollment fall by just more than 9 percent this year -- from 745 to 677 students -- according to preliminary DPI enrollment data.

While those numbers could change by the end of the year, such enrollment loses can mean major adjustments for teachers and administrators at those schools.

The Journal Times made several requests to speak with principals at Knapp and Gilmore to see how they adjusted to the student losses. A request made to speak with a principal at Knapp was declined and requests to speak with principals at Gilmore did not generate any response.

Dan Thielen, Unified's chief of human capital, said his office works collaboratively with schools and other departments within the district to monitor enrollment and staffing levels.

If there is a need to make staffing adjustments at the beginning of the school year, Thielen said the district "will transfer staff from one building to another to make the appropriate adjustments."



Americans are getting back to budget basics this holiday season.

Seventy-two percent of Americans say they're setting a budget this shopping season, up from 65 percent in 2013, according to the latest American Express Spending amp; Saving Tracker.

The increase in consumer budgeting may lead to a decrease in consumer spending this year. The average American consumer plans to spend $842 on holiday shopping this year, according to the American Express survey. That's significantly down from $1,260 in 2013 and right near 2012 spending ($848).

Black Friday remains the most popular day to holiday shop, though just 48 percent of shoppers said they planned to shop Black Friday this year, down from 52 percent in 2013. Cyber Monday may see an even bigger drop, with just 46 percent of shoppers planning to make purchases that day, down from 55 percent last year.

Gift cards remain the most popular gift choice, according to the American Express survey, at 55 percent (down from 61 percent in 2013).

According to a Bankrate.com report, more than half (59 percent) of gift cards now are offered electronically. And considering that 40 percent of 18- to 29-year-old have lost a physical gift card, according to the report, the rise of e-gift cards may be good news for younger consumers who rely more on more on their devices. Most - 84 percent - of Americans have received a gift card and nearly three-fourths (72 percent) have given one as a gift, according to the Bankrate report.

"There are a lot of reasons why electronic gift cards appeal to customers," Jeanine Skowronski, Bankrate.com's credit card analyst, said of the report. "For starters, they're a quick fix for anyone who needs a gift on the fly. Second, unlike their plastic counterparts, they don't take up excess real estate in your wallet. And, though it may seem counterintuitive, a digital gift card can be easily personalized.



The participatory budgeting process for the 2015 City Council budget has began.

Both Rockaway councilmembers, Eric Ulrich and Donovan Richards, will participate.

Of the 51 members of the council, only 24 opted into participatory budgeting this year. Ulrich is one of only four councilmembers who has participated since the program began in 2011.

Councilmembers who participate in the program allow community members to decide how to allocate $1 million of discretionary funding. The process takes several months and involves proposing and developing project proposals and ultimately voting on which projects to fund.

The concept of participatory budgeting began in Brazil in 1989. Some of the goals of this method of allocating discretionary funds are to empower communities, increase civic participation and increase transparency in government.

In New York City, proposals must fit a number of guidelines; for example, a project must cost at lease $35,000 but no more than $1 million. The funds can't be used for salaries or programs.



The Texas Tri-County Chamber of Commerce members and guests discovered that, with a little budget and a little planning, spreading the word about their business or service is within their grasp. Thanks to Pat O'Brien of Remax Access, our November chamber luncheon at the Blue Bonnet Palace in Selma.

Norma Ramon of Fairfield Inn amp; Suites hosted the November mixer Thursday, Nov. 20, where guests and members were treated to fun and refreshments.

We want to welcome two new members: Mattengas Pizzeria in Schertz; and Pawderosa Ranch Doggie Play and Stay, also of Schertz.

Check out our Events tab online -- at www.txtricountychamber.org -- for details about news and events.

Tamara Pearis is administrative assistant for the Texas Tri-County Chamber of Commerce.