Budget Cuts and Shrinking Departments: The Effects of a Smaller Student Population

Many+students+who+have+virtual+afternoon+classes+leave+in+the+middle+of+the+day.+Seen+here%2C+students+walk+to+their+cars+after+fourth+period.

Rachel Lichtenwalner

Many students who have virtual afternoon classes leave in the middle of the day. Seen here, students walk to their cars after fourth period.

Maria Lemos, Staff Writer

Each year, as seniors leave and move on to bigger things, a new class embarks on their four-year journey at the school.  

However, this year, the number of incoming freshmen was not enough to replenish the number of students who graduated. The same is expected to happen this year and in the foreseeable future.  

According to the school’s projections, the school is estimated to lose around 100 students in the 2022-2023 school year and around 100 more each of the following two school years.   

Last year, the school had 2,148 students compared to the 1,895 students enrolled this year.  

Along with the diminishing student population, the school budget is also shrinking.   

“The money we earn is based off of students,” said Principal Ashley Agans. “Every student earns a certain amount of money for the school.” 

With this money, Agans must juggle complex Fulton County Schools formulas to solve the Rubik’s cube known as the school budget.  

Although the school will be working on a tighter budget, the money isn’t necessarily the problem: losing staff is.  

To put it simply, fewer students not only means less money allocated to the school, but fewer teachers, as well. 

“Everything is student-driven. Based off the certain number of students, I get a number of teachers. Based on the classes the students want, I keep or let go certain teachers,” said Agans.  

“When you’re the one whose dropping them, it hurts. It really hurts.” 

A decrease in teaching positions across several departments may pose a concern, one being larger class sizes. 

“For [this budget season], they gave me 63.5 teachers. Year before, I had 67.5 teachers,” said Agans. Class sizes might be larger than what it would’ve been.” 

Although several departments will begin to experience larger class sizes, the school’s math department will be staying intact.  

“I’ve tried to be very careful that where we lose teachers is not in [math]. This is somewhere I need to keep class sizes small,” Agans said. 

Research shows that small class sizes result in enhanced student performance; however, for Agans, these class sizes are especially critical for proper retention in math classes.   

“I’d say compared to humanities; math is one of those things where people need more individual help,” said math department chair Brian Wynne.  

“It’s one of those things where you just can’t fake it. If you can’t complete the square, you can’t fool the teacher into thinking you can do it,” he said.   

Next year, only 396 freshmen are expected to join the school, while an expected 542 seniors will have graduated, according to Jessamy Russell, the school’s data clerk.  

This imbalance of output versus input is occurring at Cambridge’s main feeder school, Hopewell Middle School.  

“For several years, our exiting 8th grade class has been significantly larger than our incoming 6th grade class,” said Hopewell Principal Michael LeMoyne in an e-mail. 

This is not only occurring in the Milton and Alpharetta region, but rather, this has become a county-wide phenomenon, said LeMoyne and Agans.  

It seems there has not been a definitive explanation as to why this is happening.  

“I think private school enrollment could be part of [the decreasing number of students],” said LeMoyne, “but I also wonder about the changes in the community in terms of who is moving in and how many families are here whose kids have already graduated.”  

Agans has a similar theory.  

“Look at what the cost of living is in North Fulton. Our price tag is substantially more than Gwinnett or Dekalb,” she said. 

All this puts more pressure on course verifications and schedule confirmations.  

What I do is I look at the budget and I look at what I cut and what I can’t cut,” said Agans.  

And as virtual classes become more popular, it’s important for students to know what they’re getting into, she said.  

Virtual classes through Fulton Virtual School (FVS) or Georgia Virtual Schools (GAVS) have not only become quite the academic trend, but they also play a role in the shrinking department sizes. 

This year, 676 students have taken at least one virtual course, said Russell.   

“When someone drops a virtual class four weeks in, I’ve already paid for the virtual class, which is why we’re crazy about class drops,” said Agans.  

The decrease in students being a part of face-to-face learning in the classroom possibly results in fewer teaching positions in the building. 

“I just want to be as transparent as possible because these are people’s jobs; their livelihood that are at stake,” said Agans.