BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) — The region’s largest district is seeing a decline in enrollment and in attendance.

“We’re still coming out of COVID,” said Sullivan County Director of Schools Evelyn Rafalowski. “We still have students and their families who are choosing alternative methods of learning.”

Sullivan County’s Weighted Full-Time Equivalent Average Daily Attendance (WFTE-ADA) dropped by 540 students.

“That WFTE is the weighted full-time equivalent. That is an average daily attendance number, not a membership number,” explained Rafalowski. “Different students are weighted at different levels in the school district. If you have students who are receiving special service, they’re weighted at a higher percentage than a student who isn’t.”

That number determines how the county money from sales and property taxes is split between the school districts it serves: Sullivan County, Bristol, Tennessee City Schools, and Kingsport City Schools along with a portion of Johnson City Schools.

“With our county budget, we have a number and we just divide it up based on the percentages that each system has. So it’s taking a finite number and dividing it up. We don’t have more or less but with the state, we have less if you lose those students countywide,” said Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable. “These numbers are extremely important to the school system in preparing their budget but they’re less important to the county commission as we review that budget.”

To compare WFTE-ADA numbers, Kingsport dropped by eight but Bristol increased by 47 and Johnson City by 12. This means Sullivan County Schools would see a 1.42 % decrease in funding from the county share than the year before.

For Washington County, the county school district WFTE-ADA had a decrease of 535 and Johnson City Schools had a decrease of 80.

That shakes out to 1.13% less funding for Washington County Schools from the county budget than the year before and 1.13% more for Johnson City Schools.

Enrollment for the system is also down.

“If you look at our current [Basic Education Program], our average daily membership, we’ve lost 281, and that BEP actually looks at four reporting periods during the year and does an average from there,” Rafalowski said.

The BEP determines state funding per student. Enrollment increased for the three other districts Sullivan County Schools shares funding with.

School System2020-20212021-2022Change in students
Bristol3,7393,78243
Johnson City7,5797,62344
Washington Co.8,0588,09335
Average Daily Membership changes based on the Basic Education Program

“The revenue numbers from the state are the important ones because it’s $8,000-plus per student so a 200-300 loss could be a loss to the county overall, not just the Sullivan County system of significant money coming into the county,” said Venable. “Because you lose 281 students you don’t necessarily need fewer teachers because it may be two kids a classroom so these are all decisions that have to be discussed in the budget process.”

A Kingsport City Schools spokesperson says the district is up more than 100 students.

Rafalowski says the pandemic played a part in the drops.

“When you start looking at COVID and the restrictions there are to the number of days you have to stay out before you can return to school, in our school district it increased the number of days a student might be absent,” she said.

Rafalowski is working on her budget to be presented to the Board of Education before it goes to the county budget committee and commission.