Where are all the students?

PORT CLINTON When Teresa Spitler was a student, getting through the halls of Port Clinton Middle Sch
May 24, 2010



When Teresa Spitler was a student, getting through the halls of Port Clinton Middle School was a full-contact sport.

“You could not go to your locker and get books,” she said. “There was not enough room in the hallways.”

If she did manage to open her locker, it would be slammed shut by other students trying to pass by.

The classrooms at the middle and high schools weren’t much better, crammed so tightly with desks there was hardly room to maneuver among them.

Twenty-eight years later, the picture is a stark contrast of what was. Far from overcrowding, Port Clinton Schools now faces under-enrollment.

The sardines-in-a-tin-can factor eased significantly by the time Spitler’s first son graduated in 1999. A decade later, her youngest son is a sophomore, and the district has seen its enrollment shrink another 14.3 percent, one of the sharpest declines in the area.

Port Clinton Schools is not alone. Public school enrollment in the Register’s coverage area has slipped 7.4 percent in a decade.

Fewer students, fewer schools.

Fewer students means less in state funding, forcing districts to undertake painful downsizing.

This year alone, Bellevue Schools will say good-bye to Lyme Elementary, while Sandusky Schools plans to close Madison Elementary and consolidate two junior high buildings into one.

The reorganization in Sandusky follows the closure of the Barker and Monroe buildings in 2006. The district suffered the worst decline in the area -- 22.2 percent in the last decade.

“This is not just a local trend but statewide, nationwide, we’re seeing dropping numbers,” Sandusky superintendent Bill Pahl said. “People are moving to the South, where the jobs are. Family sizes are much smaller than they were years ago.”

Coincidentally or not, 2001 was the year Norwalk Schools’ open enrollment turned around from a net loss of 10 students to a gain of four.

For this school year, the district has a net gain of 29 students.

Norwalk Schools’ gain could signify a loss not just for other public schools, but also for Norwalk Catholic School.

Up until three years ago, each parish operated its own school, and the three didn’t track enrollment together. Since the merger, however, Catholic school president Walter Klimaski said enrollment has been fairly steady.

“We have found that our enrollment even through these tough economic times is looking good, and we’re still having families contact us about possibly enrolling for next year,” he said.

Klimaski said the new Norwalk High School may have impacted St. Paul High School when it opened, but St. Paul opened its own addition three years ago.

The 2.2 percent enrollment decline Norwalk Schools saw this year could be a precursor of future trends, as Huron County suffers some of the worst economic conditions in the state.

Still, Babcanec said projections don’t show any major declines.

“We’ve seen a leveling out this past year, and that’s where I think it will stay for now,” he said.