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Enrollments steady compared to last year in Kingsport, Sullivan school systems

Rick Wagner • Aug 19, 2018 at 7:30 PM

KINGSPORT — Kindergarten enrollment in Sullivan County Schools so far is the highest in six years, when this year’s fifth-graders were kindergarteners.

Also, overall enrollment in Kingsport City Schools and Sullivan County is on track with last year’s numbers, although KCS — which increased tuition for out-of-city students by $20 a month — is a little down in elementary enrollment but up in middle and high school enrollment.

SULLIVAN NUMBERS

“Our kindergarten is up. It’s the highest kindergarten we’ve seen since our fifth grade class. Right now we’re at 706,” Director of Schools Evelyn Rafalowski said Friday, noting that last year’s enrollment was 675.

Rafalowski said she expects additional kindergarten students and other fluctuations until things settle down after Labor Day. This year’s first grade is 671, while second grade is 645. 

Overall, she said enrollment Thursday (county students were out of school Friday because of the Bristol races) was within 10 students of the end of the last school year. K-12 enrollment was 9,294 Thursday or 9,444 including 150 pre-K students. She said the pre-K enrollment, which does not count toward Tennessee education funding, could go as high as 300. Those programs are either state-funded or tuition programs paid for by families.

KINGSPORT NUMBERS

Meanwhile, Kingsport enrollment as of Friday, a regular school day, totaled  7,435 in K-12, up eight from the same time, the 10th day of school, last year. The Friday enrollment was made up of 3,356 elementary, 1,799 middle and 2,280 high school students, according to Assistant Superintendent of Administration Andy True.

On Wednesday, the breakdown was 3,344 elementary, 1,794 middle and 2,275 high school, which at 7,413 was the same as day eight last year. At Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Jeff Moorhouse and Jim Nash, chief student services officer, told the board that enrollment was up at the high school level by 26, middle school by 16 but down 47 in elementary.

WHY SUCH STEADY NUMBERS COMPARED TO LAST YEAR?  

Like Rafalowski, True said enrollment really would not settle down until after Labor Day because some newcomers to the area from other parts of the country are used to school starting in early September and some families are gone on vacations or other travel. The 20th day for each system, which will be Aug. 31 for Kingsport and Sept. 4 for the county, is the first day’s data that is used to determine funding shares among school systems.

However, the steady numbers are a contrast to what had become the norm of Kingsport gaining and the county losing enrollment.

Both systems face the U.S. demographic trends of an aging population, people having few children and having them later in life. Rafalowski said she believes the apparent stabilization of enrollment in both systems is because of a change in state annexation law.

Some students in the Sullivan North and South zones have been annexed but choose to remain in the county schools, although some county students pay tuition to the city, which raised its tuition for this year to help make up a budget shortfall. The city’s Dobyns-Bennett High School is scheduled to open a Science and Technology Center expansion in the fall of 2019, the same time the county’s new Sullivan East Middle is to open near East High. The county’s West Ridge High, off Exit 63 of Interstate 81, is scheduled to open in the fall of 2020.

“It’s really leveling off because annexation is not as active,” Rafalowski said of Kingsport and Bristol annexations of areas in the county in the 1980s, 1990s and some in the 2000s. However, Tennessee law changed to allow annexation only by request or referendum, in effect replacing the “Smart Growth” law that for all intents and purposes is no longer relevant. True said it would be premature to draw any conclusions on what could affect enrollment this year until early September.

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