The Harlan County Board of Education approved a non-resident student contract with the Harlan Independent School District last week that calls for a continued reduction in the numbers of students crossing boundary lines.
Under the new deal, as of the 2014-15 school year, a total of 215 county residents from grades kindergarten through 12 will be allowed to enroll in the city and have the state’s funding follow them. That number drops to 205 the following year, after which the agreement expires.
In addition to those limits, both school districts will retain non-resident students whose parents are employed by the district they choose to attend, a detail recently added to state law. The city district also has students under a grandfather clause permitting siblings of previously-enrolled students to attend.
As earlier reported, the county school board’s long-term goal is to reduce the number allowed under the contract until both districts share a level of non-resident students that is roughly equal. If current population trends hold, and by reducing the number by just 10 students per year, the county has at least 15 more years to wait to reach their mark.
According to the county’s data, as of October 2013, a total of 322 non-resident students from the county
district were enrolled in city schools, of which 52 were children of city school employees, 30 were siblings of enrolled students, and 225 were being covered by state SEEK funding according to contract.
Only 15 students were non-residents paying tuition.
That same month, a total of 63 city district residents were enrolled in the county schools.
The ongoing issue calls attention to changes in population and the economy as both local school districts have experienced contractions over the past 25 years. Because of the formula the state uses to fund schools, friction has developed between the two over the movement of students. This conflict is common across Kentucky.
For Harlan County, as employment in the coal industry shrinks and people seek opportunities elsewhere, the school systems have sought to retain as many of the remaining students as possible. While census estimates continue to project population decline for Harlan County, over the past five years school enrollment has remained steady, and actually shows a slight increase of 0.83 percent.
But that increase has not been equal. The city has lost 12 percent of its enrollment since the 2009-10 school year (845 to 744), while the county has gained nearly 1.8 percent over that same period (4,121 to 4,192).
While the numbers have fluctuated during that time, with years of gains and losses by both districts roughly equal, the raw numbers and percentages still come down largely in favor of the county district.
While small in comparison to the county, Harlan Independent is not unusual in a state that has 173 school districts, 22 of which are smaller than Harlan — including three counties.
By coincidence, this year Harlan Independent reported the exact same enrollment as Hickman County (744).
Also, many of the independent districts near Harlan have smaller enrollments; including Pineville, Barbourville, Jenkins, Jackson in Breathitt County and East Bernstadt in Laurel County.
Another item discussed during the meeting was the arrangement between the Harlan County Sheriff’s Office and the district for the staffing of a deputy at Harlan County High School.
According to Superintendent Mike Howard, the sheriff has “worked out” the billing issue between them and the board approved paying $42,500 per year for School Resource Officers for the current year.
“It’s a valuable service and I believe it’s a great benefit to our school system to have that available,” Howard told the board.
In other action, the board:
• Elected Gary Farmer as chairman and Wallace Napier as vice-chairman;
• Approved a memorandum of agreement with Letcher County and the Kentucky School Boards Association on the shared position of Energy Manager;
• Approved a U.S. Department of Agriculture letter on review of the commodity food program;
• Approved an employment report of one certified and five classified positions, and one classified resignation;
• Heard an update on student health data related to the fall “Fitness Fairs” held in all schools;
• Heard site base council reports for Black Mountain Elementary from Principal Eddie Stewart and Green Hills Elementary from Principal Jonathan Perkins;
• Approved payment of claims totaling $722,268.36;
• Declared as surplus with no monetary value two scoreboards at Cumberland Elementary School;
• Approved the worker’s compensation report for December 2013;
• Set the 2014 regular meeting schedule for the board;
• Conducted a public forum for presentation of a plan to improve school nutrition and physical activities in the school district;
• Approved a request by Cumberland Elementary School to share travel with Letcher County students to the Kentucky United Nations Assembly scheduled for Louisville in March.