WEST TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV)– As enrollment continues to decline, Vigo County Schools interim superintendent Tom Balitewicz spoke to the school board on Monday, detailing several things he wants to see done to try and help buck the trend.
The corporation has lost around 1,000 students over the past five years, to around 13,400. This falls in line with projections from a McKibben demographic study done in 2015. An updated version of the study, completed in 2020, forecasts enrollment continuing to decline to about 13,000 by 2031.
Balitewicz said the corporation has seen a “surge in demand” for alternative schooling, and he wants to see the high school program at Booker T. Washington expanded to allow more students.
“We have to really start looking at that ceiling of number of seats that we can offer, and we have to increase that number,” he said. “That means kind of looking at the physical school too, and seeing how we can accomplish that.”
He also wants to work to lower the number of transferring students, particularly to neighboring communities. During the 2022-23 school year, 373 students have transferred to Clay, Southwest Parke, South Vermillion and Sullivan schools alone. With funding tied to enrollment, Balitewicz said this can cause the school to potentially lose millions in state funding. He said he wants to establish a survey to find out what is causing some of these families to leave.
“We’re very concerned about any student that we lose to a neighboring school district, and we want to try to do everything that we can do to make sure we understand why the student or parent elected to go to another school district,” he said. “I think we have to do a better job of collecting some data there.”
Some of the loss may be attributed to population decline around the community. School board President Amy Lore pointed to other initiatives, like “See You in Terre Haute,” that are working to reverse population decline.
“It’s the same song, just a different verse,” she said. “We have heard about this before, we’ve been watching the McKibben study track and actually be very, very accurate. What I see is emblematic of what the entire community is trying to work together to combat.”
Balitewicz said he hopes to see the McKibben study updated later this year to reflect changes around the corporation that have taken place since 2020.