Some school districts looking into advertising to maintain enrollment numbers

Published On: Oct 18 2013 06:14:55 PM CDT   Updated On: Oct 18 2013 07:02:29 PM CDT
Bangor open enrollment
LA CROSSE COUNTY, Wis. -

Student enrollment is tied to funding.

Last week, every Wisconsin school district learned if they were gaining or losing money as a result of open enrollment.

Open enrollment gives students and their families an opportunity to attend a district other than their own.

That has some districts looking into spending more money to gain more students.

The Bangor School District has struggled for years to retain and attract students.

“I think the numbers probably were, in terms of Bangor, were worsening until this year,” said Dave Laehn, superintendent of the Bangor School District.

The district loses about $7,000 for every student who open enrolls in a different district.

Last year, the district lost 30 students -- in other words, $210,000.

This year, it lost two, for a total of $14,000.

Laehn said the loss could impact maintenance and programming.

“You have to balance the budget, so you just have to look at every area of your school budget and say, ‘Where can we be, not only more efficient, but sometimes make cuts?’” said Laehn.

While this year's numbers look a little bit better, Laehn and other district leaders are looking into ways to keep up with competition, and one of the options is hiring a marketing company.

“There's so many options out there nowadays, online and charter, and those types of institutions advertise a lot, whether it’s K-12 or higher education,” said Laehn. “They're out marketing what they have.”

“Probably the last four years, we've been getting more (students) in than out, and that number is starting to grow a little bit,” said Troy Gunderson, superintendent of the West Salem School District.

The West Salem School District gained about 30 students this year through open enrollment, but Gunderson said the gain doesn't necessarily mean one school district is better than another.

“If it's easier to drop my kids off on my way to work, if they go to that particular school, it doesn't matter what district it's in,” said Gunderson. “So you see more of that convenience-driven switching.”

While there could be benefits to hiring a marketing company, Laehn said educators first have to decide whether it would be worth the cost.

“Just like everything else, we have to decide how we best use our money in terms of hiring a firm, or can we do certain things on our own?” said Laehn.

The Bangor School District is working to become a destination district.

Educators have formed a group to figure out ways to make not only the district more attractive, but the community as well.

Laehn said one of the reasons why students, particularly younger students, have left the district is because of families aren't finding enough resources in Bangor for things such as childcare.

Both Bangor and West Salem have spent time and resources revamping their websites to make them more user-friendly for prospective families.

West Salem has also looked into hiring some sort of communication director to manage its website as well as social media accounts.