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When school started on Aug. 19, teachers in western Hidalgo County had slightly fewer students than last year.
The Sharyland school district had 287 fewer students. The Mission school district had 360 fewer students. And the La Joya school district had 247 fewer students.
When she briefed the La Joya school board last month, Superintendent Gisela Saenz also had sobering news about the second day of the semester: 25,562 students showed up for school, 822 fewer than last year.
“We’re almost 1,000 less than last year,” said La Joya school board Vice President Alex Cantu. “And that’s alarming.”
Many factors, including demographic changes, competition for students and the date school starts, affect enrollment.
“Traditionally, Mission CISD and many of the districts in the area see enrollment numbers change throughout the school year, especially if there are a large number of migrant families,” said Craig Verley, a spokesman for the Mission Consolidated Independent School District, in an email. “In Mission CISD we usually see our enrollment slowly grow through the fall and peak sometime in January and February. Then there tends to be a slow and slight decrease as we head toward the end of the school year.”
The La Joya school district had nearly 1,300 migrant students during the 2018-2019 school year, the second-highest number in Hidalgo County, according to data published by the Region One Education Service Center.
Mission had nearly 220 and Sharyland had about 100.
Slowing population growth in South Texas is also affecting enrollment.
In January, Region One counted about 436,000 students enrolled at school districts located in Cameron County, Willacy County, Hidalgo County, Brooks County, Starr County, Zapata County, Jim Hogg County and Webb County.
They’re spread among dozens of school districts and charter schools, which increasingly compete for students.
Nearly 1,200 students left the La Joya school district from the 2017-2018 school year to the 2018-2019 school year, according to Region One data reviewed by the school board last month.
About 400 students who attended La Joya schools went to Mission schools the following year. About 225 went to IDEA Public Schools. And nearly 155 went to Edinburg schools.
La Joya also received about 890 students from other school districts.
Region One counted 300 students from Mission, about 120 students from IDEA Public Schools and nearly 100 students from Edinburg who switched to La Joya.
La Joya had a net loss of nearly 290 students.
Enrollment peaked during the 2013-2014 school year, when the La Joya school district had about 29,700 students, according to data reviewed by the school board. By the 2018-2019 school year, enrollment had dropped to about 28,000 students.
The number of teachers declined slightly. La Joya, however, hired a significant number of non-teaching staff despite the drop in enrollment.
The number of non-teachers employed by the district jumped from about 2,160 to about 2,300, according to data reviewed by the school board.
Texas calculates school funding on a per-pupil basis, which means La Joya receives less money when enrollment drops.
“We’re making a lot of efforts to look for students that have not returned,” said Saenz, the La Joya Independent School District superintendent, when she briefed the school board last month. “And bring them back to La Joya ISD.”
This article originally appeared in the Friday Sept. 13, 2019 issue of the Progress Times.