This is one of a series of articles on the 10 year anniversary of the Cargill fire, which happened on Easter Sunday, 2008.

If you drive by the Booneville School District campuses today, you’ll see they appear largely as they did a decade ago. Walk inside you’ll notice there is more room.

No, there haven’t been any large renovation projects to expand the footprints of the various buildings.

There are just fewer people.

On Mirach 15, 2008, eight days before the Easter Sunday fire that destroyed the Cargill meat processing plant and put 800 people out of work, the student population was 1,446. Ten years later, it was 1,268.

While that looks like a declining enrollment of 178 students, in reality, a drop of 258 students because the 2018 numbers include 80 students in the school’s pre-kindergarten program which it did not have in 2008.

Those students are also not included in official school enrollment numbers used in the state funding matrix.

In fiscal year 2017 schools were funded $6,646 per student through public property takes and state funding so a decline of 258 students represents $1,714,668 in one year alone.

The population numbers also tell several other stories:

• In 2008 the largest class had 124 members and there were just two classes of students under 100 students, and one of them had 99.

• Now, there are only two classes with at least 100 students, with a high of 110, and one of those is the senior class.

• The largest decline in students has been among those identified as white, from 1,370 to 1,134.

• The biggest increase in students has been in the Hispanic population, climbing from 38 to 69 over the decade.

• The Native American population has also increased, from 9 to 16 students.

• Not tracked in 2008, there are also 36 students identified as having two or more races.

The population has also become more economically disadvantaged. During the 2013-2014 school year more than 70 percent of the school district’s population qualified for the free and reduced lunch program for the first time. It has remained above that threshold every year since.

Consequently, for the past two school years the school has participated in a program to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students.

Declining enrollment has also created an up and down assignment in the school’s Arkansas Activities Association classification from Class 4A to Class 3A. The AAA uses a three-year average of populations from 9th through 11th grades.

The district spent the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years in 3A, returned to 4A for the next two-year cycle and is again dropping to 3A for the next two-year cycle.

If there is any good news in the numbers it may be that it seems the downward trend has slowed the past year.

“Hopefully, we are seeing the end and things are going to level off,” interim superintendent Scotty Pierce said recently.

The decline from 2017 to 2017 is just two students, but that comes on the heels of declines of 42, 24, 33 and 32 students on the same dates.

The decline in students and funding has also had an effect on employment within the district. Ten years ago there were 205 employees on the payroll. This year there are 175.

The cuts have been felt throughout the district. Athletics, agriculture, support positions, classroom teachers and even administration has been trimmed, most often by attrition.

“There have been some difficult decisions that have had to be made and every department has been affected,” said Pierce.

In 2015, former superintendent John Parrish announced a plan to trim the staff by 10 people in one year and while everyone who wished to stay employed was permitted to do so, multiple employees were reassigned to other areas.

That was done to keep the school in complete compliance with course offerings.

“We haven’t cut any programs or classes we have to have,” Pierce said. “Actually we’ve added several.”

Among those added since the fire is a robotics program that has competed in world competitions. There have also been additions of classes taught through the University of Arkansas Fort Smith on the school campus. Another is an HVAC course also being taught on camps.