Enrollment in Douglas County public schools has suffered another major blow.
What school district officials had hoped was a sign of stabilization last year, a minor 1.1 percent dip, gave way this year to a loss of 151 students - a 2.4 percent slide.
"There is no guarantee when it will level off or bounce back up," said Superintendent Lisa Noonan. "We've had eight straight years in Douglas County of declining enrollment. We thought we hit that level-off mark last fall, so we're sad to see this. Because new people are moving in, but, clearly, we have other people moving out. It seems to be tied to the economy more than anything else."
Based on two count days in September, the recently released numbers are still considered uncertified. A certified enrollment audit report from the state is expected to be released in November.
The trend, though preliminary, is hard to ignore.
Enrollment at Lake Tahoe schools fell from 439 students last year to 417, a drop of 22 students, or 5 percent.
Carson Valley schools lost 129 students, from 5,836 last year to 5,707, or a 2.2 percent decline.
Total enrollment dropped from 6,275 in the 2011-12 school year to 6,124, representing the largest drop in four years. In the 2008-09 school year, DCSD shed 205 students, or 3 percent of its student body. Since then, the rate of decline has slowed to 1.1-1.7 percent.
The recent slide puts current enrollment below 1992-93 levels. Total enrollment in Douglas County schools peaked in the 1998-99 school year with 7,322 students, and it stayed near or above the 7,000 mark until the 2006-07 school year, when enrollment dropped by 187 students, or 2.7 percent, to 6,848.
At individual elementary schools, not counting early childhood special education, enrollment was mostly negative.
Title I variances for underperforming schools under No Child Left Behind, which had provided students the option to transfer to other sites, were not required this year.
Meneley Elementary enrolled 553 K-6 students, up from 535 last year, and Jacks Valley Elementary enrolled 464 K-6 students, down from 493 last year.
Pinon Hills Elementary saw a 10-student drop, from 495 K-6 students to 485; Gardnerville Elementary dipped slightly from 519 to 516 this year; Minden Elementary shrank from 399 to 385; Scarselli dropped from 573 to 539, a 34-student decrease; and Zephyr Cove Elementary shed 19 students from 204 last year to 185 this year.
Carson Valley Middle School's student population remained fairly flat, from 745 last year to 742. Pau-Wa-Lu Middle School actually gained students, from 599 last year to 608 this year. Douglas High dropped from 1,286 students last year to 1,242 students this year, a 44-student decline, and Whittell High School went from 233 to 229.
Some enrollment differences at Douglas High and other secondary schools may be attributed to the growing ASPIRE alternative education program, which enrolled 69 students this year on count day.
Weighted enrollment for the district, which actually determines per-pupil funding, came in at 5,901. That number includes 445 pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students, whom are funded at 60 percent, and 46 students from Alpine County under an interstate agreement.
Fortunately, the district is currently funded at last year's weighted enrollment of 6,053.8 due to the state's hold harmless provision, which allows districts with declining enrollment to use the previous year's numbers.
Of course, if student population declines over a long period of time, per-pupil funding inevitably decreases - the drop is just delayed a year.
Noonan said declining enrollment "adds a dimension" going into next year's budget cycle and state legislative session.
"The governor has made comments that he will not recommend additional cuts to education," Noonan said. "While we'll learn more about this going forward, we're hoping the legislature doesn't have plans to reduce funding for public education, or it will create that double-hit."