School District of Pickens County Superintendent Dr. Henry Hunt said that part of the reason for the steep dropoff was that budget issues had forced the district to reduce the available spots for 4K students by 120.
As for the remaining 107 fewer, Hunt said it appeared that families had moved from the district. He said the district staff is looking into finding out more about these families, to see if any families have somehow been overlooked.
Trustee Alex Saitta said the decreasing enrollment numbers came as no surprise to him, as this makes the third straight year that enrollment numbers for county schools have decreased.
“With enrollment declining, it’s very systematic of how weak the economy in in Pickens County, not just on the short term, but on the long term too.” Saitta said. “The school board needs to be very careful not to overspend and do its best to keep tax tates down, to not burden the economy any more.”
Saitta said that the economy in the county has done a complete turnaround in the past decade.
“If you look at employment trends from 10 years ago, some of the top employer were private sector companies,” Saitta said. “Now the top two employers in the county are Clemson University and the School District of Pickens County.”
Saitta said that the poor economy and lack of good jobs leads to the decreased enrollment.
“The private sector is not doing well,” Saitta said. “As the economy weakens, a lot of people in their 30s, 40s and 50s are finding that they can’t find work here. There’s really not a lot of private sector jobs. So what they’re being forced to do is they’re leaving and taking their children with them.”
Saitta said the poor economy overrides other factors that should have lead to more children in the public schools.
“Enrollment is declining even in the face of all these private schools that have been closing, which you would think would send more children into the public school system,” Saitta said. “It is also down in the face of the fact that the population in the county continues to grow.”
Saitta said that the much of the growth has come from people moving to the county to retire.
“There’s a lot of retirees moving in, but they don’t need jobs because they’re retired,” Saitta said. “But for people our age, there’s really not a lot of jobs out there for them, so they’re leaving.
Saitta said it is more important than ever that the school board and other government entities be careful with spending and keep taxes from being raise.
“There’s more and more evidence that the economy is quite weak,” Saitta said.