Enrollment in Harrison County public schools has declined significantly over the last five years -- down 575 students since 1995.
That was just one piece of information included in the West Virginia Report Card for the 1999-2000 school year, recently released by the West Virginia Department of Education.
The report card provides a snapshot of data for each county in the state, evaluating student enrollment and performances, staff experience and training, and financial information.
The decline in students is a statewide trend, with the exception of a few counties such as Berkeley and Morgan, in the eastern panhandle, and Putnam in the south. Those counties have seen steady increases during the last five years, according to the report.
"While we've seen a declining enrollment, it's still high when we compare it to the rest of the state," said Harrison County Schools Superintendent Carl Friebel.
In Harrison County, the number of students enrolled last year was 11,733, down from 11,962 in the 1998-99 school year, according to the report.
"It's a sad trend that's happening all over the state," Friebel said. "People are continuing to migrate out from West Virginia."
The result is counties are forced to reduce the number of staff employed because according to state law, funding for salaries is based on student enrollment.
Upshur County Schools is currently in the process of sending out reduction-in-force notices to employees due to the continual enrollment decline, said Superintendent Helen Whitehair.
This year there are about 70 less students in school than last year, a loss Whitehair attributes to an aging community.
"We have been declining over a period of years and the projection is that we will still be declining," Whitehair said recently. "The community is growing but enrollment isn't."
Harrison County has approximately 18 more positions than the state law calls for, based on the number of students enrolled, Friebel said. The county hopes to deal with the problem through normal attrition, he said.
"When someone retires, instead of replacing the person, we'll look to see if we can eliminate that job or if we can use someone part time already on staff," he said.
The West Virginia Report Card is sent to parents in each of the counties, showing their child's school, county and state data, said Doris White, of the department of education research division.
"I think it is one tool that gives demographic information ... you don't want to compare one school to another based on one statistic though," White said. "It is intended to be a status report of one point in time."
The report card information is often requested by those considering relocating to the area, in order to get an idea of the school system, Friebel said.
Schools are a substantial issue when companies and individuals are deciding on a location, said Joe Gero, director of the Harrison County Development Authority.
"School systems are not deal makers, but they can be deal breakers," Gero said. "Having good schools won't bring a company, but if we didn't have good schools then they certainly wouldn't come."
Having an accurate picture of the county's schools does help economic development, according to local Realtors.
"It's probably the number one question I get from those relocating," said Marjorie Peters of Century 21 in Clarksburg. "The people I've worked with who came here for the FBI and Dominion -- the schools are more important than the area even."
In Harrison County, attendance rates have improved and ACT scores are the highest they've been in five years, Friebel said.
"I was very pleased with our report card," he said. "We're proud of our modern well-maintained facilities, dedicated professionals and support personnel."
Each county's report card is available online at http://wvde.state.wv.us/schooldata.html as well as state trend information.
Staff writer Jennifer Biller can be reached at 626-1449 or firstname.lastname@example.org.