The special section of The Sunday Herald honoring graduating classes at local school districts stirred some talk at holiday picnics and around coffee shops in the Mercer County area.

While the names of valedictorians and salutatorians captured the eyes of the readers, there was something else that really jumped out — the graduation numbers at the various schools.

To put it simply: We have a growing problem concerning a shrinking problem — decreasing enrollments in our schools.

While we have written about it in the past, the stark reality of the situation faced readers who looked closely at the grad numbers for each school. It was especially shocking for people who hadn’t kept up with the way our schools are declining in the Shenango Valley.

For example, some of the graduation numbers included:

• Sharon — 121

• Farrell — 55

• Hermitage — 183

• Sharpsville — 94

Those four districts amount to a total of 443 students. At one time Sharon alone had almost that many graduating students. Hickory High had more than 300 graduating in some classes.

Look at Farrell. At one time it was at or nearing 200 kids in some senior classes. Now there are 55. The Farrell school board recently announced a planned $15 million renovation. If you want to crunch numbers, it looks like this:

If each class averages 55 graduates, grades K-12 would account for 715 total students. That means the renovation costs about $21,000 per student. That is (state) tax money that doesn’t include the normal annual cost per student for education.

And we also must remember that Wheatland children may be allowed to shift to the West Middlesex Area School district, if WhEAT’s bid to leave Farrell is approved by the state Department of Education. That would reduce the numbers even more.

While we complain about taxes, the highest tax we pay locally is for schools. It not only puts a financial strain on many residents, it discourages businesses from moving into our locale because of high property taxes.

But it’s not just the Shenango Valley. Jamestown graduates only 47 this year. If Greenville enrollment — 137 grads this year — continues to decline because of the loss of industrial jobs for young parents, isn’t it a no-brainer that Jamestown should consolidate with Greenville or Reynolds?

Bigger isn’t always better. But it is less costly if done correctly and it also can offer a more diversified education to students when there are larger numbers.

When superintendent salaries are in the $100,000 range at many schools and principals receive in the high five-figures, just reducing the staff at the top can be a big tax savings.

People are talking about the low graduation numbers. School board members everywhere, for the good of the taxpayers and the students, had better start discussing what to do about it.