Efforts to minimize the loss seem to have stagnated of late.

    Declining enrollment, declining enrollment, declining enrollment.

    It’s pretty much all we’ve heard in Crookston for years, isn’t it? Declining enrollment has spurred millions of dollars in staff and program reductions, as graduating classes at Crookston High School have been replaced by much smaller incoming kindergarten classes. That has leveled off of late, as the worst appears to be over, and most everyone can see that enrollment has for the most part stabilized.

    And, yet, when it comes to sports and other activities at CHS, the getting-smaller trend continues. For many years, Crookston High School was typically seen as the “smallest of the bigs.” In other words, we still competed against the likes of East Grand Forks, Thief River Falls and Detroit Lakes, but our high school enrollment was eclipsed more and more by those districts' high school enrollments. Now, however, CHS is fast becoming the “biggest of the smalls” as we drop from AAA to AA in some sports, or AA to A in other sports.

    Kind of depressing, right? Well, not really, when you really think about it. Why shouldn’t Crookston’s kids get to compete against student-athletes who come from schools similar in size to Crookston? It’s no fun, after all, to compete against teams with bigger, stronger and faster athletes and far deeper benches and lose far more than you win. It’s not the fault of Crookston’s student-athletes that numbers are down here.

    But are the numbers really down? Or is enrollment, at least the potential enrollment, in Crookston’s schools actually on the rise?

    If not for the astounding number of students who open enroll to the Fisher School a few miles west on Highway 2, and to several other smaller, neighboring districts, we likely wouldn’t be talking about drops from AAA to AA or AA to A at all. According to figures from the Minnesota Department of Education website, on any given day, Crookston brings in a fraction less than 30 students who open enroll here from other districts. (The fraction comes into play because, when it comes to state funding, students are weighted differently, depending on what grade they’re in.)

    But that number is a small fraction of the 170-plus students who open enroll to other districts each day. That’s approximately 1 out of 6 Crookston students who go to school elsewhere. Of that figure, more than 90 of those students attend school in Fisher. Crookston students account for almost one-third of Fisher’s enrollment. It’s a jaw-dropping number.

    So what’s being done about it? Well, superintendents and school board members have discussed the issue from time to time over the years with varying degrees of concern. The varous reasons families enroll their kids elsewhere are rattled off, and maybe every now and then someone says that district leaders need to make a concerted effort to communicate with these families and see if there’s anything that could be done to bring their kids back to Crookston. Phone calls have been made, conversations have been had, and, meanwhile, the number of Crookston students going to school in Fisher and elsewhere continues to grow, with the numbers really jumping over the past couple years.

    There’s an elephant in the room, and it’s not just all these Crookston kids taking millions of dollars in state education funding with them when they’re educated in neighboring school districts. It’s also the notion that Crookston’s enrollment just continues to drop, drop, drop. Overall, maybe that’s the case, to a small degree. But it’s not simply because there are fewer Crookston kids. There are fewer Crookston kids going to school in Crookston’s public schools.