While ADM is not exactly the same thing as enrollment, the two are closely related.  Enrollment counts the number of children that sign up to go to school, explained Ed Breslauer, director of finance for Fluvanna schools.  Membership keeps track of the number of children who join the school and makes subtractions for those who leave.  “Membership is a snapshot in time, of a particular day,” said Breslauer.  ADM, then, is a time-weighted average of membership as it exists through March 31.  For example, a child in school from the beginning of the year through March 31 counts as 1, while a child in school for half that time counts as 0.5.

For the 2011-2012 school year Fluvanna’s ADM was 3,696.  For 2012-2013 it fell to 3,652, and for 2013-2014 it dropped significantly to 3,556.  ADM for 2014-2105 is projected to fall to 3,526, and the projection for 2015-2016 is smallest of all at 3,491.

Where are Fluvanna’s schoolchildren going?

There are currently six private schools in Fluvanna.  Oakland School and the Lafayette School take children who aren’t thriving in a traditional classroom environment, so their schools theoretically don’t pull children who would otherwise stay in the public schools.

Fork Union Military Academy has 51 day students who live close enough to the school to go home each evening.  Effort Christian School has 50 students and the Light Academy has 17 students.  Open Door Christian School declined to say how many students it has enrolled.

In addition to private school, some of Fluvanna’s families are choosing homeschooling.  Currently 257 children in the county receive their education at home.

Fluvanna Superintendent Gena Keller remarked on a trend toward private school and homeschooling in the state of Virginia.  “There are more options available for parents as they determine how best to educate their child,” she wrote in an email.  “Consequently, there is a tendency for parents to consider those options.  Fluvanna has seen a decrease in ADM for several years after seeing a significant surge in enrollment in the early 2000s.”

But the issue goes deeper than some families swapping public education for private school or homeschooling.

According to a study released by the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia, “public school enrollment is declining in virtually all but the major metro areas in Virginia.”  This trend is expected to continue through at least 2018, the latest year projected by the study.

The recession is to blame, said the study titled “Public School Enrollment Trends in Virginia.”  First of all, when the economy tanked in 2008, people stopped having as many babies.  In 2013, when babies born in 2008 would have headed off to kindergarten, public school enrollment suffered.

Also, the recession caused people to stop moving around as much, the study said.  When families with children move less frequently into areas with already-low birth rates, public school enrollment drops.

When ADM drops, state funding drops.  Between the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 school years, Fluvanna schools lost the mathematical equivalent of 96 students, though the typical decline has been more like 37.  And the resulting gap in funding can be hard to make up.

It’s not like those 37 students all came out of only one grade level.  If that were the case, the school might be able to cut a teaching position and recoup some funds.  But the loss actually comes scattered about from all different grade levels – one student here, two students there – and makes it hard to cut positions.  Other spending remains static: Buildings still need to be heated; insurance still needs to be paid.

“There could be an ADM decline of say 30,” wrote Breslauer in an email, “but depending where the actual change in students takes place could mean that there is no impact on staff at all.  When we do see changes in class size the instructional administrators consider what staffing adjustments, if any, to make.”  The same would hold true for an increase in ADM, he said.  “It could also happen that there could be an ADM increase of 30 that results in no increase to staffing.”

The Fluvanna school system has seen some tumultuous times, most notably with the Board of Supervisors’ budget vote in May 2012 that cut school funding by $2.3 million.  Since then the school system has been working its way back – “going in a different direction,” as Breslauer put it.

“I think we would be naïve to believe that the budget events of 2012 had little to no impact on enrollment, and consequently ADM,” Keller wrote.  “School performance and the culture of a community have a significant impact on whether or not a family chooses to move to a community, remain in a community, or consider other options that can provide a predictable and stable environment for the education of their child.  When people believe there is instability, if they are able, they will go where there is more stability or create it themselves – especially if it involves assuring good things for their child.”

But despite the state-wide drop in public school enrollment, Keller is optimistic about Fluvanna schools.  “I must say, though, our schools have continued to demonstrate that we are a quality school system and we have made significant and continued improvements despite limited resources,” she wrote.  “There’s still much to do and we are certainly headed in the right direction as a community who cares about our young people!”

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