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Cass County schools fight decreasing enrollment

CASS COUNTY, Mich. -

Enrollment in Michigan’s public schools is at its lowest point in 60 years, but some districts, like Edwardsburg, are managing to grow.

“We’ve had a sitting superintendent for 23 years,” said Dr. Myra Munroe, assistant to the superintendent at Edwardsburg Public Schools. “He’s been in the district for 30 [years]. That provides an enormous amount of stability that you can really forward a vision and a mission.”

Enrollment is up 6-percent over the last decade at Edwardsburg Public Schools.

That number stands out because the other four school districts in Cass County have seen sharp decreases in enrollment in the last 10 years.

Marcellus Community Schools – 34-percent decrease.

Cassopolis Public Schools – 24-percent decrease.

Lewis Cass ISD – 19-percent decrease.

Dowagiac Union Schools – 17-percent decrease.

In Cassopolis, superintendent Tracy D. Hertsel said the economy is the biggest factor.

“We have families that the majority work in Elkhart,” he said. “And as Elkhart goes, so goes our schools.”

Hertsel said he’s literally watched families leave town – and the district – overnight because their jobs disappear.

But he’s also seen the good of living in a small, rural community where the schools are sold by word of mouth.

“Being community-based, people know people, so the word travels, and that type of thing,” Hertsel said. “But we really try to involve our community in things that we do.”

Dr. Munroe said the same goes for Edwardsburg.

“Our parents and our students talk about, to their families, their friends, what makes Edwardsburg special,” she said.

She said the wide variety of programs and options Edwardsburg offers to families helps boost enrollment – especially because they’re a district of choice that many families enroll in, even if they live out of town.

Enrollment in Michigan public schools is down 13-percent since 2002.

Hertsel said for districts like Cassopolis, state funding based on enrollment is a slippery slope.

“Basing it on that, if you have a large company go out of your district, it can decimate your budget for that year,” he said.

Cassopolis Public Schools have added about 70 students in the last two years, according to Hertsel.

He said the district is beginning to stabilize after the recession.

In Edwardsburg, Dr. Munroe said there’s no specific secret to her district’s success.

She said it’s just a combination of good resources, staffing, and marketing.

If you live in Berrien County and are interested in enrollment figures in your district, you can click here to check.

The Niles Community School District has seen a 10-percent decrease in the last 10 years.

St. Joseph Public Schools has seen a 7-percent increase.

And Benton Harbor Area Schools has seen a 44-percent decrease. 

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