There have been a number of questions raised regarding how the triennial school census is conducted and the accuracy of the numbers reported for Fluvanna County. The Weldon- Cooper Center at the University of Virginia conducted a study comparing the existing methodology for conducting this census with possible results if the census number was developed using population estimates developed by the Weldon-Cooper Center. In reporting this study, an article that was published in the Daily Progress seems to have given the impression that the census was not competed appropriately in 2005 and as a result was approximately 700 students short of the actual population. This shortfall then cost Fluvanna County approximately $400,000 in sales tax revenues.
The actual facts are that the school divisions in Virginia cannot use the method that is the basis for these shortfall numbers and recommended by the Weldon-Cooper Center. In a letter to me dated December 4, 2008, Dr. Qian Cai, the study’s author, has confirmed that “the Code of Virginia does not allow the school division to do a survey(as opposed to a full census), or to use the Copper Center’s population estimates in place of a census.” She goes on to state that “Our study was not designed to evaluate the effort by individual school divisions. In fact, we did little to look at the specific strategies and techniques employed by the divisions.”
At present, we use an actual head count to determine the number to be included in the census. We comply with both the training and the means of collecting the data that are authorized by the Virginia Department of Education. This is a difficult job and has been headed-up for approximately 25 years by Mrs. Elva Key. Mrs. Key begins the process in the spring with a pre-census count using our existing databases. She then trains enumerators and divides the county into sections for canvassing. These enumerators go door-to-door to determine the number of children ages 5 to 19 that reside in Fluvanna County. There are times when the occupants either are not home or refuse to provide this information. Occupants are not required by law to answer any questions. If no one is home, the enumerator will return at a later time to try to gain the information. I feel that Mrs. Key and those individuals working with her have done a good job over the years in conducting this census. We have looked at the results over time and find that past censuses have shown that approximately 95% of those responding are enrolled in our schools.
I hope that this has helped to answer both citizen concerns and questions. I would be happy to address any further issues that one might have about our census efforts.