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Census shows wide variation in where children live in central Ohio
Some school districts in central Ohio, such as Olentangy in Delaware County, are awash in children. Others, including Columbus City Schools, are not.
Monday, March 21, 2011
by Bill Bush
Olentangy schools have a higher percentage of kids living within the district than any of the other 48 school districts in the seven-county central Ohio area.
Almost a third of the people living in the Olentangy district are younger than 18, according to the 2010 census.
"That's not a surprise at all," said Superintendent Wade Lucas. "We have been the fastest-growing for eight consecutive years, and we're now the eighth-largest in the state."
Statewide, 23.7 percent of Ohio residents are younger than 18. Central Ohio is younger, though: Children make up 24.8 percent of the 49 school districts.
The census numbers count the number of residents within a district's boundaries - not the number of students attending a school system - but Olentangy has captured much of the population growth.
The district has added about 950 students just since the end of last school year, an increase of more than 6 percent. Olentangy will graduate fewer than 900 seniors this year, but it has taken in almost 1,500 first-graders, Lucas said.
"It gives us some challenges from a finance standpoint, due to the fact that we're very low-funded at the state level," Lucas said. "We're always on the ballot."
The district will open elementary and middle schools this fall, the third and fourth buildings to make their debut since Lucas became superintendent slightly more than two years ago.
"Some superintendents don't ever build a building in their entire career," he said.
Just behind Olentangy for the highest percentage of young residents are New Albany-Plain, Pickerington and Canal Winchester, where kids make up more than 30 percent of each district's population.
"Those are the high population-growth areas, which typically are people moving there to raise a family because of the school district," said Roberta Garber, executive director of Community Research Partners, a Columbus data-research organization.
At the other end of the spectrum, only 18 percent of all the residents in Madison-Plains - a largely rural school district southwest of Columbus - were younger than 18 years old.
Madison-Plains Superintendent Bernie Hall said that graduates frequently move out of the district in search of work while their parents stay behind.
"I have two kids who graduated from here, and neither one lives in the community," Hall said.
Many children of farmers are moving on, too, he said.
"Family farms are few and far between," Hall said, noting that many families lease their land to corporate farming operations. "The family farm 10 or 15 years ago is a lot different than today. They're not sitting there feeding the cows each morning."
The Columbus school district has the second-lowest percentage of young people in central Ohio, at 20.7 percent. Older parts of the city, which generally are within Columbus City Schools' boundaries, have seen their populations shrink, Garber said. The newer, growing parts of the city of Columbus are largely served by suburban school districts.
Still, Garber is surprised that the newer immigrant populations of the city, who tend to have more children, aren't boosting the percentage of young people in Columbus City Schools.
"I'm surprised that that's not counterbalancing this," Garber said.
Districts with low percentages of young people have a challenge in persuading voters to pass their levies, said Mark Real, president of KidsOhio.org, a nonpartisan research organization based in Columbus.
"If you've been inside the district schools, you've met the principal, your children have gotten some benefit from the district, it's probably fair to say you're more receptive to what the district has to say," Real said.