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Clayton Schools enrollment exceeds projections

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

The number of students by which Clayton County Public Schools' enrollment is exceeding projections this year falls between the size of a middle school and the average size of a high school, school system Spokesman Charles White said Friday.

The school system's 20-day enrollment count revealed the district had an enrollment of 48,348 regular-education students, which is 1,168 pupils above the school system's projection for that segment of the district's population.

"The average capacity for our middle schools is 900 to 1,000 students," White said. "The average population of our high schools is 1,450 students. So, it's larger than a middle school, and just short of a high school in terms of size. This is essentially another school for us."

The Clayton County school system's projection of 47,180 regular-education students was developed during the 2008-2009 school year using figures such as new housing construction, the size of the county's tax digest and the birth rate, according to White. He said the figure was used by the district to plan teacher allotments for the current school year.

White, and Clayton County Board of Education Chairperson Alieka Anderson, said funding for additional teachers was included in the school system's fiscal year 2010 budget just in case there was an influx of students coming back to the district after it regained its accreditation earlier this year.

White said district officials are monitoring the enrollment closely, but no decisions have been as to how to address the higher-than-projected student population. Anderson said she believes students will still receive a quality education.

"I think teachers will have the supplies they need," she said. "We're going to make sure everybody has what they need to provide the children with a world-class education."

For school system officials, the 20-day count represents the first true glimpse of the school system's student enrollment, White said. "What 20 days represents is the end of the first month of school," he said. "We are now one month into the school year. You want to give enough time for the district numbers to settle down."

But, the school system's 20-day enrollment count is not the same as the Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) count that the Georgia Department of Education does in October, and again during the spring semester. The FTE count is what state education leaders use to determine how much state funding a school system will receive.

In addition to higher-than-expected regular-education enrollment, the district's numbers also show rapid growth in the school system across all segments of the student population, White said. He said the district's overall enrollment has increased by nearly 4,000 students since Aug. 10, the first day of the 2009-2010 school year. The overall enrollment number includes pre-kindergarten, regular-education, and special-education students.

"In the first month of this school year, we've gone from 46,599 students, to 50,120 students," White said.

Anderson said she was happy to hear enrollment was exceeding projections, but said growth was something school board members had been expecting since the school system regained its Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) accreditation last May. The school system's 20-day enrollment count for the 2008-2009 school year, taken a few days after the accreditation loss, was 48,470 regular-education students, according to White, 122 more than Friday's count.

School system officials have repeatedly said the district lost 3,500 students during the 2008-2009 school year, when Clayton County Public Schools spent most of the academic year without its accreditation.

"We knew once we got the accreditation back, the students would come back," Anderson said.

White pointed out, however, that it is too early to tell whether students who left the district last year because of the accreditation issues are coming back, or whether the enrollment figures represent students who are new to the district. "It is way too early in the process to make that determination," White said.