As a graduate of Ursuline High School, I often hear calls from those in the community about the need to combine Ursuline with Youngstown’s other Catholic high school, Cardinal Mooney. There is no question the Catholic schools in town have been hurt with declining enrollment over the years, much in part due to rising tuition, leading to the closure of a number of the parish grade schools. Such closures have hit the grade schools that my wife (St. Luke in Boardman) and I (St. Joseph in Austintown) attended from K-8. It is unfortunate to see such great schools close down, but those closures are inevitable with fewer students in the desks each year. The issue of fewer students isn’t just a Catholic school issue anymore, it is quickly becoming a public school issue as well.
Everyone in town is aware the population of the Mahoning Valley has been declining for four decades due to the decline of the steel industry and an overall economy that seems to consistently lag state and national levels. That population drop can only mean one thing… fewer kids. With fewer children comes a diminishing enrollment base in this community. This led me to asking the question, how big of a drop in enrollment have the public schools experienced in recent years?
I visited the Ohio Department of Education Enrollment Data website and was able to access the October public school headcount figures for fiscal years ending 2010 through 2018. I captured this district-wide (K-12) enrollment data for all 14 of the public school districts in Mahoning County, as well as the 20 public school districts in Trumbull County.
For reference sake, over this period of time the state of Ohio has experienced a decline in the number of students attending public schools as well. According to the Ohio Department of Education, the state has seen a 5.02% reduction in students in the public school system from FYE 2010 through 2018. In addition, on the chart below, the % Change (2010 to 2018) column is color coded with the red shaded cells designating districts that had worse % declines in comparison to the state, with the few in yellow representing districts that have seen declines at a rate less than that of the state.
District Enrollment in Mahoning and Trumbull (FYE 2010 – 2018)
As you can see above, all of the public school districts in Mahoning and Trumbull County have seen district-wide enrollment declines from 2010 through 2018. The district that saw the smallest % decline was Girard (-0.36%), with the district seeing the greatest % decline being the tiny Bloomfield-Mespo (-32.18%) school district. Overall, 31 of the 34 districts saw declines at rates outpacing than the state decline.
The numbers I found most alarming were in the combined county data. In FYE 2010, there were 65,042 students enrolled in the public school districts in Mahoning and Trumbull County. In 2018, that figure was 54,336. That is a decline of 10,706 students, or 16.46%, in under a decade. Another interesting statistic was the large 23% decline in enrollment in one of the more affluent communities in Mahoning County, Poland.
Thanks to open enrollment, the decreases for some school districts were not as substantial. In Mahoning County, three districts that have open enrollment, Austintown, South Range, and Western Reserve were able to keep their declines in check by attracting out-of-district students into their districts.
What is Next?
With the recent news of General Motors idling the Lordstown assembly plant in March 2019, there certainly does not seem to be any major positive economic changes in the immediate future that would help slow down the enrollment declines being experienced in the Mahoning Valley. We can very well see school districts be forced to cut their number of staff, reduce their number of school buildings, and go back to the taxpayers with additional tax levies to be able to make their financial ends meet.
Seeing the list above of 34 (!) public school districts in Mahoning and Trumbull Counties, 14 of which were under 1,000 students in their entire district in the FYE 2018, could the topic of consolidation of school district come into play? Will this be something the state could push down on local school districts under a certain number of students? Geographically speaking, there are certainly some school districts on this list neighboring other school districts that could possibly work on the surface, such as Lowellville with Poland, Sebring with West Branch, and Weathersfield with McDonald just to name a few. A good discussion on this very topic is being debated on the popular Ohio HS sports forum Yappi. The thought of consolidation would likely be met with great resistance, but perhaps some good ideas could come out of such discussions, even if the number of districts would remain unchanged.
I hope you found this piece interesting, especially the telling data shown in the chart above. Unless things change drastically on an economic and jobs front, I think the issue of the declining public school enrollment will come to the forefront and be on the minds of the taxpayers in the next five years.
What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. Also, I promise that the next article will in fact be on the GOP and their control in Ohio.