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Douglas school district down by 100 students

by Merrie Leininger, staff writer

For the second year in a row, Douglas County School District has dropped by more than 100 students in this year’s official count.

Business Services Director Rick Kester said, looking at the district’s enrollment track record, he expects the trend to continue, especially considering the reduced kindergarten numbers.

Students across the state were counted Sept. 22 to determine how much money each district will receive next year. The loss of 125 students in DCSD puts the district at 7,033 students, down from 7,158 from last year for a 1.75 percent loss.

Using this year’s figure of $4,142 per student, it will mean a loss of $517,750 next year.

“The last two years have seen kindergarten at 400 students and 426 students, and those are the two smallest enrollments by almost 150 in the last six or seven years. This year is 383 and to put that in a little bit of perspective, 8th grade has 614 students district-wide. Our current 4th grade is 574, so (kindergarten is) significantly lower,” Kester said.

He explained, because DCSD currently has 500 students in 12th grade, only two-thirds the number of students are coming into the district who will be graduating out of it.

“That pattern has not existed before where the kindergarten class is 100 fewer than the 12th grade,” Kester said. “It doesn’t guarantee enrollment next year will be even less, but it seems that’s the most likely scenario. Every once in a while, you get fooled, but if you look over the last 20 years’ enrollment patterns, it doesn’t look very good. Right now, I’d say it looks like flat or declining enrollment will be the order of the day.”

The figures are not as dire as the beginning of the school year, when the enrollment was 200 less than last year. The previous year’s enrollment was a bigger drop than this year, also, down 164, or 2.24 percent, and seven teacher positions were cut this year as a result.

Kester explained that the enrollment determines the next year’s funding because such a large drop in funding would result in the loss of teacher positions. Teachers are already under contract for this year. Kester said he expects about five teachers will be cut next year to make up the loss of money.

He said the district began looking at ways to save money last year and was very conservative in spending and hiring in order to help during what DCSD considers to be a financially difficult time.

“We’ve been saving money, trying to make sure. It just tightens the financial picture, but we have a year to gear up. So, there will be fewer staff next year,” Kester said. Despite that, he said the district will be able to come through on a 1-2 percent bonus and/or salary raise for many employees, not just for those employee groups who negotiated a one-time bonus. The salaries and raises were approved at the last school board meeting.

Bus drivers will receive a 2 percent bonus for the 2000 calendar year.

A 1 percent increase in the 1998-1999 salary schedule beginning with the 2000-2001 school year will be given to the district’s confidential employees. They will also receive a 1 percent bonus for the 2000-2001 school year. Those employees work with restricted information in the personnel, business and superintendent’s offices and cannot be part of an employees’ union.

Administrators, classified supervisors and professionals will receive a 1 percent salary increase based on their 1998-1999 salary schedule starting with the 2000-2001 school year and a 1 percent bonus for the 2000-2001 school year.

Teachers received a 1 percent salary increase on the 1998-1999 salary schedule for 2000-2001 during negotiations. Also, teachers employed during both the 1999-2000 and the 2000-2001 school years will receive a 1 percent bonus. Full-time teachers will receive a bonus of $410 and part-time teachers will receive $205.

The DCSD’s food service workers will receive a 2 percent raise, retroactive to the start of last school year as part of negotiations. DCSD personnel director John Soderman said the raise amounts to $9,500 for about 35 employees.

Negotiations for other classified employees who have joined the recently-formed Douglas County Support Staff Organization will be held this fall.

The group includes the majority of DCSD’s classified employees – teachers aides, custodians and some food service workers who organized last year and haven’t started bargaining with the district.

“In a society that frequently rewards excellence with money, Douglas County School District recognizes that its outstanding staff deserves more that it is currently able to give. When and if the monetary situation improves, the district will strive to compensate its employees accordingly,” wrote district communications coordinator Maggie Allen in a press release.

Allen said these salary raises and bonuses will not affect Superintendent Pendery Clark, who did not ask for a raise during her yearly evaluation.

According to Kester, a 1 percent bonus for every district employee will cost a total of $340,000. A 1 percent salary increase will cost another $340,000.

“We analyzed the budget and we’re confident we’ll still be in a good financial position. It’s our goal to give our employees what they deserve. We try to give them all the same amount of money,” Kester said.

Bonuses are much easier for the district to pay than salary raises, Kester said because, without knowing if the enrollment trend continues, it is difficult for the district to commit to continuing pay raises.

“Salary goes on year after year. That has always been our problem because of ongoing resources to pay for ongoing expenditure costs have been limited, that’s why we’ve been reluctant to increase salary,” Kester said.