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Dust Off and Refresh Your Enrollment Projections

By Tahir Ahad - November 21, 2008
(This is the fourth article in a series on preparing your school district for challenging financial times.)

As you begin your budget deliberation process for the 2009-10 fiscal year and focus on producing a balanced budget, you need to consider revisiting and revising your enrollment projections.

When you develop estimates regarding the magnitude and amount if needed budget reductions, you need to make sure that your estimates are as accurate as possible.

You do not want to embark on to a budget reduction process, only to inform the board at a later point that the reductions they have approved after significant pain and suffering are not quite enough. More often than not, frustrations run high in such situations, creating an environment where people find it convenient to ignore the message, and turn on the messenger.

On the other hand, overestimating the needed reductions can also cause problems.  School boards, community groups and collective bargaining units are typically happy to learn that part of the reductions made, at a considerable emotional expense, were not needed after all. Additionally, a reinstatement process immediately following significant budget reductions can be equally painful and divisive.

Although there is no guarantee that an over- or under-estimation of the needed reduction will not occur, the district administration will be better served having its recommendations and estimates grounded in solid data, developed in accordance with statistically acceptable projection techniques. Professionally prepared enrollment projections can significantly reduce the risk of variation in projected enrollment levels.

If you already have your enrollment projections professionally developed, this is a good time to have them reviewed and verified. However, if you do not have professionally prepared projections, we strongly recommend that now is the time to get the job done.  The potential future problems this action can help identify merit the time and effort required.

We also recommend that you review and study your district's unique average daily attendance (ADA) to enrollment ratio. A review of the historical data for the last five years should provide a reliable basis to help develop this important budget development assumption. The budget officer should avoid using state-wide averages or other information provided by any third party. Even small variations in ADA to enrollment ratio can cause noticeable differences in projected revenues.

The process of enrollment projection development and/or revision does not have to be drawn out or costly. However, you do want to be reasonably assured of the accuracy of the projection to the extent possible for the next year. . .

Editor's Note: Tahir Ahad is President of the educational consulting firm Total School Solutions.