With classes starting in many school districts this week, about five-hundred fewer Iowa kids are expected in the state’s public schools this year, compared to last year. Judy Jeffrey, interim director of the Iowa Department of Education, says the statewide enrollment projection shows a drop in numbers consistent with drops in recent years. For the previous school year, 2003-to-2004, the state’s public schools enrolled just over 485-thousand students. Jeffrey says this year’s projection is down about 480 students from that figure statewide. Jeffrey says the projected enrollment this year is at 484-thousand-531 students. “We have been seeing a trend downward in enrollment for the last few years and expect it to continue through ’08 and ’09 — that’s how long we have our projections completed for.” Jeffrey could not yet identify which Iowa communities are seeing the biggest gains or losses in students. She says it happened in the corridors where there was population growth.While the above-mentioned enrollment numbers are projections, Jeffrey says firm numbers should be available in about a month. Meanwhile, a dwindling population is leading to tough decisions in the Bennett School District in eastern Iowa’s Cedar County. Starting in 2005, middle and high school kids will attend school in Durant. Bennett Junior/Senior High principal Gene Schroeder says fewer than 200 students now attend Bennett’s grade school, junior high and high school combined. In the fall of 1975, there were 540 students at Bennett. Today, it’s about 180 students, or about one-third the size. Schroeder says the teachers have known about the decision for some time and are already job-hunting. He says the old Bennett building will not close. The K-through-six grade school and day care will continue. The average junior and senior high class size is about 15 kids. Schroeder says there are only about 90 kids now in the junior/senior high and it just made financial sense to send them to Durant.