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Madison Schools Continue Large Enrollment Gains, With No End in Sight

An April 2019 growth study by Madison City Schools shows shows 1,603 students added in the past four years – nearly one third in the past school year alone.
Total enrollment on April 15, 2019, was 11,445 students, which is 584 students more than the 10,861 last May.
The May 2015 enrollment was 9,842.

The report comes as district leaders plan for another school year with schools at or nearing capacity and finances strained by revenues that are not keeping pace with student growth.
Madison City hasn’t built a school since James Clemens High School opened in 2012 and Mill Creek Elementary before that in 2009.

Dorinda White at podium with growth chart behind her on screen
Dorinda White gives growth report numbers to the Board of Education April 25. Madison County Record report of the BOE meeting.

“This equates to about the same as adding enough students to populate an average high school, two average sized middle schools, or three average sized elementary schools in four years,” said MCS administrator Dorinda White, who oversees student registration, enrollment data and school zone analysis.

The year-by-year gains are 267 from 2015-2016; 428 from 2017-18; 324 the next year; and 584 so far this year. Madison City Board of Education members seemed uneased by the numbers and trend line. 
“We understand the school system is growing at a great rate. The way you presented it to us makes me nervous,” Board member Travis Cummings said. 

The report showed gains in every grade level, with heavier concentrations in the early elementary and middle school sectors. Growth is also occurring in all schools in Madison. “It is across the system. I see tremendous growth at Horizon, at West Madison. Heritage has more growth right now than anyone,” Ms. White told the Board.

School rezonings have helped balance growth in the last several years. The shift of 6th grade into the middle schools this year – while driven by academic benefits - offered temporary relief for booming elementary populations. Portable classrooms, school additions, stricter residency verifications, and utilization of available space in schools also helped deal with the growth issues.

Ms. White said it may not seem significant to only grow by only 150 students per grade level if looking simply at the numbers. Taken as a whole, however, “This amounts to more than two students every single school day for the past four school years or about 10 students each week of school,” she said. “This would mean of course adding two more desks, two more chairs and two more sets of books every day. Think of adding this at home when it comes to dinner: tonight you have four plates, four seats and four meals; tomorrow night you would have six seats and six plates and six meals; the next night eight more and so on.”

Ms. White said enrollment across the state in most districts is declining, and even the faster growing school systems are increasing by 150 or so students yearly.

Board members pondered how the enrollment spike could happen with the city’s recent slowdown on annexations and residential development approvals. Ms. White attributed the boom to more phases of previously approved subdivisions and the continued influx of families into pre-existing homes.

Board members also learned how the school district has become more aggressive in address verification requirements. That was prompted several years ago by reports of fake address documents and students falsely claiming the home of friends or relatives as their legal residence. “We are being very proactive when we let students in,” Ms. White said. “For instance, we have over 3,000 students on leases. Leases can expire anytime. We have about 300 that expire each month. Every single month we are diligent to say, ‘Your lease expired. We just need to get your new lease and latest utility bill.’ By staying on top of this, we have found approximately 131 students who had moved out of zone and could not produce a current lease and we withdrew them this year.”
The initial address verification push found approximately 300 out-of-zone students.

Superintendent Robby Parker’s Strategic Plan approved shortly after he became superintendent calls for a new elementary and middle school, as well as an expansion of both high schools. To pay for it all, the proposal calls for a 12-mil property tax in Madison and Triana. The funding measures have passed the Legislature and will be put on the ballots in early fall. Twelve-mils would add $120 annually in property tax per $100,000 value of a home.