Saturday, February 03, 2024

Enrollment In Oconee County Schools Increased In October Of 2023 From 2022 Because of Nonresident Enrollees

***Enrollment In County’s Four Private Schools Also Down***

Oconee County Schools enrolled 8,535 students in October of 2023, an increase of four students from October of 2022, according to data the system reported to the Georgia Department of Education.

Only 8,459 of those enrolled students were residents of Oconee County, however, and the enrollment of Oconee County students fell by 16 from October of last year.

For the first time last fall, Oconee County Schools allowed the children of employees who live outside the county to attend Oconee County Schools tuition free, and 75 nonresident students enrolled in 2023, up from 56 in 2022.

One international student was enrolled in October of 2023 as well.

Data filed with the Georgia Department of Education show that total enrollments in the four private schools in the county declined in the fall of 2023, with five fewer students enrolled than in 2022.

Declarations of Intent for Home Schooling filed electronically for Oconee County students for the school year starting last summer also were down–by three students–from a year earlier.

In the neighboring Jackson County School District, enrollment increased by 606 total students in October of 2023 from a year earlier, while Barrow County Schools reported an increase of 395 student, Jefferson City Schools reported an increase of three students, and the Clarke County School District reported a decrease of nine students.

Enrollment growth in Oconee County Schools for the last five years has averaged 103.2 students per year. In the five years before that, the average was 247.6 students added per year, according to the state data.

October 2023 Enrollments

Each school district in the state is required to file with the Georgia Department of Education enrollment data for the first Tuesday of October each year, broken down by school within the system. Those data are available online.

Chart 1 (Click To Enlarge)

On Oct. 3 of 2023, Oconee County Schools reported enrollments at its six elementary schools and one primary school of 3,798 students, down by three students from the 3,801 enrolled on Oct. 4 of 2022.

Enrollment at the system’s three middle schools was 1,951, down by 49 students from the 2,000 students enrolled in the system’s two middle schools in October of 2022.

Dove Creek Middle School opened with only 487 students, Malcom Bridge Middle School had 573 students, and Oconee Middle School had 891 students.

Enrollment at the system’s two high schools increased by 56 students over a year earlier, with North Oconee High School enrolling 1,472 students, down from 1,479 a year earlier, and Oconee County High School enrolling 1,314, up from 1,251 a year earlier.

These enrollment figures include those students who live within Oconee County as well as those who live outside the county and are attending Oconee County Schools.

Long Term Trends

The Georgia Department of Education reports enrollment data for school districts in the state back through 1994, and those data show October enrollments at Oconee County Schools have nearly doubled over those 29 years.

In 1994, Oconee County Schools enrolled 4,375 students at two elementary and one primary school, one middle school, and one high school. (See Chart 1.)

In 2023, Oconee County Schools enrolled its 8,535 students at six elementary and one primary school, three middle schools, and two high schools.

Enrollments increased dramatically from 1994 to 2006, going from 4,375 students to 6,310 students.

Growth leveled off from 2006 to 2011, with enrollment of 6,531 in 2011.

From 2011 to 2018, enrollment again increased dramatically, from 6,531 to 8,019.

In the last five years, growth has been quite modest, from that 8,019 in 2018 to 8,535 in 2023, an increase of 516 students, or an average of 103.2 per year.

In percentage terms, the growth has averaged 1.3 percent those five years.

Residency Data

School systems in the state are required to file a System of Residency Report with the Georgia Department of Education each year.

I obtained the reports for Oconee County Schools for 2022 and 2023 via open records requests. The 2022 report was dated Oct. 27, 2022, and the 2023 report was dated Oct. 23, 2023.

The reports show that 35 of the 56 nonresident students enrolled at Oconee County Schools in 2022 were at the system’s elementary and primary schools in 2022, and 47 of the 76 enrolled in 2023 were at that level.

Twelve of the nonresident enrolled students in 2022 were at the middle school level, and 15 were at that level in 2023.

Nine of the nonresident enrolled students were at the high school level in 2022, and 14, including the international student, were at that level in 2023.

Private School Enrollments

Private schools in Georgia also are required to file enrollment reports each October with the local school districts, which they forward to the Georgia Department of Education.

Chart 2 (Click To Enlarge)

I obtained a data file with all of the enrollment data for private schools for the state for the last five years via a data request with the Department of Education. I selected out for analysis the data for the private schools in Oconee County.

For years 2019 to 2022, data were included for Athens Academy, Prince Avenue Christian School, and Westminster Christian Academy. (See Chart 2.)

In October 2023, data also were included for Living Word Academy, which enrolled 33 students in PreK-8 instruction.

A total of 2,065 students were enrolled in the four private schools in the county in October of 2023.

The enrollment at the four private schools, combined with the enrollments at Oconee County Schools, means that 10,600 students were enrolled in K-12 education in the county last October, with 19.5 percent of them in the private schools.

Total enrollment at the four private schools in the county increased by 356 students from October of 2019 to October of 2023, but most of that growth was from October 2019 to the following year.

Overall enrollment dropped in 2021, and only Prince Avenue Christian School increased the number of enrolled students during each of these five years.

These four private schools draw from outside the county, but the slow growth in recent years is consistent with the pattern at Oconee County Schools, where, minus the tuition free students, enrollments also dropped.

(NOTE: Geoffrey Walton, Director of Admissions for Athens Academy, contacted me on 2/5/2024 to say that the data provided to me by the Georgia Department of Education for Athens Academy are incorrect. He reported enrollments of 909 (2020), 913 (2021), 903 (2022), and 898 (2023). Based on those data, rather than the data released by the state, private school enrollment in the county increased by 64 students from October of 2022 to October of 2023.)

Declaration Of Intent

The Home Study Office, Division of Policy and External Affairs, Georgia Department of Education, collects data based on Home School Declarations of Intent completed by parents intending to home school a child or children.

Chart 3 (Click To Enlarge)

I obtained those data for the last five school years for the state through a data request filed with the Georgia Department of Education and separated out the Declaration of Intent data for Oconee County residents.

The data are based on electronic submissions, and parents have other options for filing Home School Declarations of Intent, so the total counts could underestimate the numbers, the Department of Education said in releasing the data.

Based on the available counts, the number of students covered by the Declarations of Intent in Oconee County increased from 371 in school year 2019-2020 to 409 in the current school year. (See Chart 3.)

The number of students dropped from 412 last year to 409 this year, however, following the same pattern as for Oconee County’s private schools and for Oconee County Schools, if the tuition free students are removed from the final Oconee County Schools counts.

A Declaration of Intent can include more than one student, and the number of electronically submitted Declaration of Intents in Oconee County also dropped from last year to this year.

Other County Comparisons

The Georgia Department of Education data show that the Jackson County School District and Barrow County Schools are experiencing rapid growth at the time that Oconee County is not. (See Chart 4.)

Chart 4 (Click To Enlarge)

Coming out of the 2020 pandemic year, both Jackson County and Barrow County systems have seen large increases in enrollments each year, while enrollment at Oconee County Schools have increased much more modestly.

Jackson County Schools added 2,012 students in that time, Barrow County Schools added 1,199, and Oconee County added 311.

Jefferson City Schools, which are in Jackson County, added 209 students from 2020 to 2023, and Clark County Schools lost 176 students.

From October of 2022 to October of 2023, Jackson County schools added 606 students, Barrow County Schools added 395 students, Oconee County added four students, Jefferson City Schools added three students, and Clarke County Schools lost nine students.

Oconee County's residential growth is concentrated in the north of the county, closest to the school districts in Barrow, Jackson, and Clarke counties.

Oconee School Capacities

As a result of its massive building programs funded in large part by the Education Local Option Sales Tax revenue, Oconee County Schools will have a capacity of 4,875 students at the Elementary and Primary School level when the next school year begins and construction at Malcom Bridge Elementary School is completed.

With current enrollment for those schools of 3,798, capacity exceeds enrollment by 1,077.

Capacity for each of the system’s three middle schools is 1,000, so the middle school capacity of 3,000 is 1,049 above current enrollments.

Capacity at each of the two high schools is 1,500, so current enrollments are 214 below that level.

Future Needs

At last year’s January retreat of the Oconee County Board of Education, Superintendent Jason Branch and Associate Superintendent Dallas LeDuff said it was time to start talking about the need for additional capacity at the high school level.

Superintendent Branch At Retreat 1/16/2023

At the retreat on Jan. 16 of this year, LeDuff and Branch said capacity at all levels, including at the high school level, was not a problem requiring immediate action.

“We’ve got some room to kind of take a breath and look at what’s happening and what’s going to happen with development in our community and how it’s going to affect student enrollment and our need to create more capacity at our schools,” LeDuff said.

“We were going to have concerns about where we housed these students,” Branch added, referring to high enrollment growth in the past. “What you have done through your support and leadership is provide us the situation such that we’re in very good standing for quite some time as we continue to see growth.”

Permits Issued

LeDuff presented the Board with data from the Oconee County Department of Planning and Code Enforcement showing that the county had issued 193 new residential building permits in 2023, down from 198 in 2022.

Branch referenced that chart, saying that each resident is expected to represent one additional student. The chart showed the number of permits averaging 191.0 over the last five years, with only one year, 2020 with 201 permits, breaking the 200 mark.

“We know more development is coming, and we want to be prepared for that,” Branch added.

Branch referenced the number of approved but not yet developed subdivisions in the county, which includes Westland on U.S. 78 near the Walton County line and Parkside, stretching from Hog Mountain Road to Mars Hill Road.

Westland is zoned for 399 single-family residential lots.

Parkside is zoned for 776 residential lots, with 507 of those single-family lots and 269 of the 776 designed for older residents, labeled as “active adults.”

Both developments are limited to issuance of 75 building permits per year, based on a court settlement with the county.

In 2023, according to Oconee County Planning and Code Enforcement Director Guy Herring, the county issued 43 permits for Westland in 2023, or a little more than a fifth of the total number issued by the county that year. No permits were issued for Westland prior to 2023, Herring said.

No permits have been issued for Parkside, according to Herring, and roadways and other infrastructure are not yet in place in the development as required for issuance of any permits.


The video below, recorded by Oconee Enterprise reporter Caitlin Farmer, is of the entire Jan. 16 retreat of the Board of Education, minus the hour-long lunch break, which the Board closed to Farmer and the only other citizen present.

Farmer wrote three stories in the Jan. 25 edition of the Enterprise detailing discussion at the day-long retreat.

By prior agreement, I put the video that Farmer recorded on my Vimeo site.

LeDuff starts discussion of the school capacity and growth at 3:01:29 in the video.

LeDuff presented tables showing Capacity and Enrollment for elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools, and the enrollment data in the charts match those provided to the state for October of 2023.

The Elementary School table, shown in the video, however, contains an error.

The enrollment figures for the individual schools are correct and match the data filed with the state, but the sum of those figures is in error.

The Table should show total enrollment at the Elementary School level of 3,798, as reported above, not 2,786, as in the table.

With enrollment of 3,798, Oconee County school is at 77.9 percent of capacity at the elementary school level, while at 2,786 it is only at 57.1 percent.

Neither LeDuff nor Branch corrected the error in the presentation to the Board, and no Board member commented on the high excess capacity shown in the chart.

I note the error only so that readers who watch the video and see the charts and hear LeDuff use the 2,786 figure understand that the figures I used above are the correct ones.

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