Avoyelles School District enrollment declines only slightly

Bunkie Magnet now parish's largest high school; APSD recovers from cyber attack

It may sound contradictory to call a decline in enrollment "good news," but when a school district is used to triple digit declines year after year, etc., a drop of less than 20 is, well, pretty darn good.

For Avoyelles Parish public schools, overall enrollment fell from 5,159 in the Oct. 1, 2019 student count to 5,140 in this October's tally.

The "count that counts" in early October is used to decide state Minimum Foundation Program allocations to the school district.

A 19-student drop means about $120,000 less from the state when the MFP funds are doled out. The state does another important enrollment count in February to make any adjustments, up or down, for state funds.

"I really believe the 'virtual option' helped us with our enrollment this year," APSD Superintendent Blaine Dauzat said. "We have 1,700 virtual-only students in the school system."

The district is coming up fast on the first test for the virtual-only program -- and it comes after a security breach disrupted the program.

Students will be able to change from virtual-only to on-campus instruction beginning the 2nd 9 weeks grading period, which starts on Oct. 29.

Parents and guardians who want their child to go from virtual-only to on-campus, or on-campus to virtual-only, must contact their child's school between Wednesday (Oct. 14) and next Thursday (Oct. 22).

One change Dauzat noted -- which is more for bragging rights than anything significant -- is that Bunkie Magnet High is now the parish's largest high school by enrollment.

Bunkie's enrollment has been growing over the past two years, and it had a big bump last year to be just a few students fewer than Marksville.

This year Bunkie Magnet had 35 more students than it did last October. Marksville High, which has been losing enrollment over the past several years, dropped by 18.

Avoyelles High and LaSAS charter high were within single digits of where they were last October, Dauzat said.

BIGGEST GAIN, LOSS

APSD's "biggest loser" this year is Lafargue Elementary, with an enrollment drop or 75 students. The school in Ward 1 is the district's highest-performing elementary school and has one of the highest enrollments in the parish.

Marksville Elementary's enrollment is up by 69 over last October's count, giving it the "most growth" title for the early-year census.

Cottonport Elementary dropped 31 students to be the third double-digit loser among the 10 schools. Plaucheville Elementary increased by 10 students to make it into the double-digit gain group.

Riverside and Bunkie elementaries were within a few students of their October 2019 enrollments, Dauzat added.

This is the second year where people might've seen smiling faces telling them about an enrollment decline.

Last year APSD schools were about 100 students down from the previous year. That might sound like bad financial news -- and it certainly wasn't a plus for the bank book -- but the School Board had budgeted to expect a 200-student loss due to the opening of the new Red River Charter Academy for grades 6-8.

RRCA had less of an impact on enrollment than had been feared.

PROGRESS ON CYBER-ATTACK

In another matter, the school district restored internet and phone service to its schools and administrative offices Wednesday morning (Oct. 14), following a cyber-attack/blackmail attempt that disrupted those services since Oct. 1. It also disrupted the district's "virtual option" program. The district announced Wednesday that it was fully operational again.

The district had posted on Facebook last Wednesday that it was optimistic the systems would be up by Friday, "but then Hurricane Delta happened," Dauzat said.

The entire system had to be rebuilt from scratch, which is why it took two weeks to recover from the attack.

He told board members at the Oct. 6 board meeting that the internet system, including the "virtual option" network, will be much more secure after the work is completed.

"We now have a state-of-the-art system," Dauzat said. "Thanks to the National Guard and the state Department of Education, the system has been rebuilt and is much more secure."

The state DoE has provided new equipment to the school district free-of-charge for this school year. The district will have to pay an annual fee starting next year.

The virtual option is still a vital part of the APSD plan for this school year. Dauzat said about 1,700 of the district's students are virtual-only.

Schools are now taking applications from virtual students who want to return to the on-campus classrooms and in-class students who want to switch to virtual only. Those changes will take place at the beginning of the second 9 weeks grading period, which begins Oct. 29. Parents/guardians must notify their child's school by Oct. 22 if they wish to go from virtual-only to on-campus or from on-campus to virtual-only.

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