Superintendent: Declining enrollment, finances force the closure of Pike Elementary

NEW CONCORD − At the June 13 East Muskingum Board of Education meeting, a plan to close Pike Elementary and consolidate the district’s K-2 elementary buildings was approved, according to Superintendent Dave Adams.

Beginning this fall, a redistricting plan will see students shifted to the only two remaining elementary schools in the district, Perry and New Concord.

“New Concord Elementary will remain the same size with four Kindergarten classrooms, four first-grade classrooms, and four second-grade classrooms,” said Adams. “They will also absorb the Pike pre-school class giving them two pre-school classrooms.”

East Muskingum will shift students on the west side of the county, mostly in the Norwich area, to Perry Elementary, increasing their classrooms from two to three in kindergarten, first grade, and second grade.

The move comes after seeing a significant decrease in enrollment numbers across the district, said Adams.

David Adams
David Adams

“We have been closely monitoring a decline in our native enrollment, which is incoming residential people within East Muskingum boundaries,” said Adams. “Two years ago, there were eight classrooms (K-2). Due to our enrollment numbers, now we’ve reduced to seven.”

Adams said the 2023-24 school year saw the first drop in enrollment when Pike Elementary only had enough students for one kindergarten classroom (normally two), two first grade classrooms, and two second grade classrooms.

“We started registration earlier this year so we could plan for next school year and we saw the same thing,” said Adams. After registration for the 2024-25 school year closed, enrollment was down again, this time it would have been one kindergarten class, one first grade class, and two second grade classes at Pike.

“Had we kept Pike Elementary open, it would have only been a total of 82 students in that building,” he said.

'We have to make good financial decisions'

In an economy that is suffering from inflation, particularly around utility and transportation costs, operating expenses for Pike Elementary with only 82 students was “fiscally irresponsible,” said Adams.

“Three of our board members are John Glenn graduates who have lived in this community their whole lives. They’re aware of the emotional impact this will have on our community,” said Adams, who himself attended Pike Elementary and was also a principal there. “But we have to make good financial decisions in the face of declining enrollment.”

In 1999, East Muskingum had 2,340 native students, said Adams. In 2024, 1,840 students are native to the district, while 300 are open enrollment students, a total of 2,140 students.

“We need a three to five year plan from a facility standpoint to maximize the facilities we currently have,” said Adams. “Step one was reducing personnel last year. Step two is consolidating the elementary schools. Step three is a work in progress. We know we have challenges ahead of us.”

Declining population and lack of house are also factors

East Muskingum isn’t the only school district facing similar challenges as populations in northern Appalachia age and either grow at a much slower pace than the national average or decline overall.

The Appalachian Region Commission notes that while southern Appalachia in areas like Georgia showed growth rates much higher than the national average of 7.3 percent at 10.3 percent between 2010-2021, northern Appalachia, including Ohio, lost population at a -2.4 to -2.6 percent.

In Muskingum County, the population growth was only .2 percent. Guernsey County saw a decline by -4.6 percent; Coshocton County saw a -.9 percent decline; Perry County declined by -1.6 percent; Morgan County declined by -9 percent; and Noble County declined by -3.3 percent.

In addition, Appalachia aged up to an average of 41.3 years.

“We have to think about ‘How are we going to be able to offer the same things that make us unique while also maintaining our facilities in an environment of declining population and enrollment?’”

While Adams acknowledges that this is a multifaceted issue that is impacted from several angles, he did note that one major obstacle for young families to move into the East Muskingum school district, including New Concord itself, is the lack of housing.

“There’s no place to live,” said Adams. “I know right now real estate is outrageous everywhere but it’s very difficult for young families or young professionals to want to move to this area and establish themselves because there’s a shortage of housing.

“We have good school districts, but the housing situation is a concern.”

He said compounding that issue is the worsening economy with interest rates so high as to make it prohibitive.

“I think we’re in a really difficult position as a country,” said Adams. “Property tax increases and home valuations are going up to percentages we’ve never seen.”

And the district doesn’t see those increases in its coffers.

“We get fixed dollar amounts (from bonds and levies),” said Adams. “That money (from property tax increases) is going to other agencies.”

Adams is hoping, like many across eastern Appalachia Ohio, that the Intel plant in Licking County will push growth into their counties. Guernsey County has already completed a feasibility study that showed workforce housing is a necessity to meet that need.

But until enrollment begins to trend back up, the district must consolidate and operate its aging buildings in a fiscally responsible way, said Adams.

“This decision was made with careful consideration for the academic success and well-being of our students," said Superintendent David Adams "As operational costs continue to rise we must optimize our resources and maintain the high standards our community expects.”

This article originally appeared on Zanesville Times Recorder: East Muskingum will close Pike Elementary due to declining enrollment