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Fewer pupils equal fewer funds for individual schools

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Clayton County schools, accustomed to their district having nearly 53,000 students in recent years, are going to have to adjust the spending done to keep parents informed.

On Friday, the school system announced a "20-day Count" that puts attendance at 47,947 students," according the system's "Daily View" e-mail news system.

The number raised eyebrows, however, because it initially looked as if student flight had swelled to nearly 5,000 students in the wake of the district's accreditation loss. However, the figures do not include special needs, pre-kindergarten, and absent students at each school, according to District Spokesman Charles White.

"We're only 1,800 off of what we were expecting, but we still have about 50,000 students," said White, who stressed the count is only an attendance number.

The count is the official enrollment figure used to determine how much money the school district gives to each school for student fee accounts, and communication funds to cover the costs of newsletters and letters that are sent home to parents.

It is done on the 20th school day because months in a school year are considered to last 20 days, and the average daily attendance rate begins to take shape after one month, said White. This year, Sept. 4, was the 20th day of the school year.

Absentee rates also jumped after the accreditation loss was announced. The school system's student attendance rate for Sept. 4 was 94.7 percent. According to the math, 47,947 pupils is 94.7 percent of 50,630 students.

The 20-day count is not affiliated with the Full Time Equivalency (FTE) count which is done by Georgia Department of Education officials in October and March of each school year. The FTE count determines per-pupil funding from the state to each school district..

Part of the alarm over the 20-day count number stemmed from a recent decline in enrollment in Clayton County schools. After the first 10 days of the school year, figures revealed enrollment was down nearly 2,800 pupils from last year, as some parents fretted over the loss of accreditation.

After the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) announced the revocation of accreditation on Aug. 28, students were leaving at a rate of nearly 50 per day.

While Clayton's enrollment continues to linger around 50,000 pupils, some school systems, and private schools in the area, have seen small-to-modest increases in the number of former Clayton County students who have transferred since the end of the last school year. And some have gotten a much higher number of inquiries from Clayton parents than usual.

For example, Our Lady of Mercy Catholic High School, in Fayetteville, has not seen a surge in new students. Only "two or three" Clayton County students have transferred to the school since the accreditation loss was announced, said Principal Danny Dorsel.

"We have gotten a number of phone calls from Clayton County parents wanting to know more about our school since the accreditation announcement was made," Dorsel added.

Fulton County schools have 354 former Clayton County students, but records do not show whether they came before, or after the accreditation loss was announced, said Fulton Schools Spokesperson Susan Hale.

Some districts, such as Henry County Schools and Atlanta Public Schools, however, do not keep track of which districts transfer students are coming from.

Henry County Schools had an enrollment of 39,920 students as of Sept. 3, which is 488 pupils short of its projections. The school system's enrollment is up roughly 1,000 more students than last year. The district expects enrollment to top out at 40,408 students by November.

Officials from Mt. Zion Christian Academy, Fayette County Schools and DeKalb County Schools did not return phone calls from reporters seeking comment. Eagle's Landing Christian Academy's offices were closed for a fall break.

- Staff writer Johnny Jackson contributed to this report