ROGERSVILLE — There’s a national trend of families waiting longer to start having children, which is how Hawkins County School System administrators are explaining drastically lower kindergarten enrollment for the 2019-20 school year.
Hawkins County Director of Schools Matt Hixson told the Board of Education on Thursday that as of the end of kindergarten pre-registration this spring, the number of kindergarten students enrolled countywide is 230.
That's less than half the number of kindergarten students who were in the Hawkins County School System at the end of the 2016-17 school year two years ago.
The lowest individual school enrollment so far was at Keplar Elementary and McPheeters Bend Elementary, although Hixson said it's a countywide trend.
“We do typically have a bunch of kids come in last minute, even though we start the enrollment early in the spring,” Hixson said. “We do go through the summer, and then there are some who come in at the start of the school year. It is typical to be quite a bit lower (at this point) than what we ended up with.”
Hixson added, “We went from just over 500 the prior year to 449 last year, and we're looking at 230 kids, finished enrollments right now.”
Hawkins County isn't the only county experiencing lower than usual kindergarten enrollment. Hixson said the surrounding counties are experiencing the same trend
“It looks like the trending is attributed to families not having children,” Hixson noted. “We're not seeing a large number of people leaving the district or leaving the system. We are seeing families moving in and not having younger kids or not having kids until they are older. Those types of trends are playing out, and we are reaping those benefits, so to speak, right now.”
McPheeters Bend and Keplar have both been the subject of lengthy and heated debate over the past decade as to whether they should be closed due to their low enrollment versus the cost of operating and maintaining their facilities.
Those two schools have remained open, thanks largely to highly vocal and sometimes emotional support from their communities.
BOE Chairman Bob Larkins noted that the board will be looking closely at economic ramifications of decreased kindergarten registration.
“Some schools had very, very low kindergarten pre-registration, and if that number doesn't increase, that's going to be a challenge for the board to try to determine how we're going to manage those low numbers at certain schools,” Larkins said. “That's something we'll have to put our minds to, and I'm sure (Hixson) and (his) staff will come back with a recommendation.”
Hixson: “You could be looking at the collapse of programs. You could be looking at the collapse of classes. You could be looking at — worst case scenario — layoffs.”
Hawkins County parents who need to enroll their child in kindergarten can call the Central Office at (423) 272-7629 and contact attendance supervisor Greg Sturgill at extension 2018 or elementary supervisor Lori Allen at extension 2021.
Free breakfast and lunch
In other business Thursday, the BOE gave its approval to provide all enrolled students free breakfast and lunch during the 2019-20 school year at the following schools: Bulls Gap School, Carters Valley Elementary, Clinch School, Hawkins Elementary, McPheeters Bend Elementary and St. Clair Elementary.
The program is funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Community Eligibility Provision, a non-pricing meal service option for schools and school districts in low-income areas.
The BOE also approved free breakfast for all enrolled students during the 2019-20 school year at Rogersville Middle, Church Hill Intermediate and Church Hill Middle through the federally funded Universal Breakfast Program.
The BOE voted 4-1 Thursday to approve its proposed 2019-20 fiscal year budget with Tecky Hicks voting no. That budget will next be presented to the Hawkins County Commission during a budget workshop scheduled for June 17 beginning at 8:30 a.m.
Hixson noted that the budget is balanced, although some savings are being utilized to complete pending facility improvements. The Times News will take a closer look at the school system's budget next week.
School handbook contract
The BOE approved the low bid of Old Stage Printing in Surgoinsville to print this year's elementary, middle and high school student handbooks.
Old Stage Printing's bid $1.05 for 5,200 middle and high school handbooks and 96 cents for 3,025 elementary handbooks, which came in at approximately $8,364.
New Age Printing's bid was $1.25 per packet for middle and high school handbooks and 85 cents for elementary handbooks, which came in at approximately $9,071.