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Douglas school enrollment dips

by Merrie Leininger

Although the official count is in and the Douglas County School District has 166 fewer students than last year, the district will not yet be able to determine if Gardnerville Elementary School will be taken off of multi-track next year.

According to Business Manager Rick Kester, GES had a low enough enrollment last year to change from multi-track. Some teachers have complained that multi-track is too difficult on staff members and their students.

“We could have fit last year, but we weren’t sure we could stay off for three or four years,” he said. “Gardnerville has been on the border of being taken off for two or three years. The issue is what growth we’re having in Minden.”

Kester said Minden Elementary School has 342 students now when it is prepared for between 300-325.

“If we have to rezone into Gardnerville, it offsets how we schedule Gardnerville’s calendar,” he said. “The administration doesn’t want to be in the position of taking them off (multi-track) and then having to put them on the next year because we know it is very disruptive for parents and students.”

C.C. Meneley Elementary School teacher Mike Jessup will be representing the Douglas County Professional Education Association before the school board at the Oct. 12 meeting to discuss ways of changing all the elementary schools’ calendars from multi-track.

“The information we’ve been gathering for the past couple of years is it is not just problems for teachers, but it affects students’ education and social development,” he said.

Jessup said the association believes the district should have made more of an effort to take the schools off multi-track before now, but it’s better late than never.

“This is the time to do something about this. The sooner we can remove (multi-track) from Douglas County, the better it will be for everyone. We’d like to see the administration come up with a plan and implement it within the next few years to take all the schools off of multi-track and to keep everyone off of it,” Jessup said.

n Minden crowding. MES Principal Klaire Pirtle said the school is coping with the high numbers.

“At this point, we are full but not overcrowded. I tell my teachers this is the best kind of problem to have – lots of really good kids,” she said. “We have been using very small areas as classrooms. We do have a plan that once we get over a certain number, we will bus kids to Gardnerville.”

Kester said another option is building onto MES. However, something will have to be done because apartment complexes are in the works in both the areas of GES and MES.

Superintendent Pendery Clark said it is up to the school board, who will be given all the staff members’ suggestions at the November meeting.

“The only reason to be on multi-track is if we are over capacity. If we didn’t need it, we certainly wouldn’t want to stay on it,” she said. “We think this provides us with an opportunity to look at a number of options. Given the numbers, it is a possibility, but we also have to address the overcrowding at Minden.”

Kester said Meneley Elementary School is not far behind Gardnerville in the wait to be taken off multi-track and Scarselli Elementary School is the last on the list.

n First drop. MES and Carson Valley Middle School are the only two schools in the Carson Valley to have increased their numbers this year, while total numbers for the Valley went down by 148, or 2.35 percent. The biggest decrease was at Pau-Wa-Lu Middle School, which lost 31 students, or 3.93 percent.

At the Lake, Kingsbury Middle School, which has 18 more students this year, was the only school which increased. At the Lake, 18 total students, or 1.97 percent were lost. Zephyr Cove Elementary School decreased 19 students, or 5.49 percent.

District-wide, the schools decreased 166 students, or 2.3 percent, the first time the district has lost students in 16 years, when DCSD lost 21 students. The year before that, in 1982-83, DCSD lost three students.

The district hit its high point last year with a total of 7,322 students. In 1992-93 the district increased the most over the previous year by 495 students.

In the past few years, the growth of the district had leveled off to one new student in 1997-98 and 20 new students in 1998-99.

Kester said with the loss of students comes more loss – of money and teachers.

“In Nevada, we are held harmless one year because we already have teachers under contract,” he said. “We will probably go down seven teachers next year. We are paid on last year’s enrollment, and if it doesn’t go back up, we lose about $700,000. We look at staff first because 87 percent of our money is in salaries and benefits.”

Clark said the district has been planning with this loss in mind for a few years.

“It wasn’t a surprise to us. We fully anticipated it could be down,” Clark said. “We’ve been monitoring numbers since the start of school. It seems to be a trend affecting Nevada.”

Clark said she believes it is an effect of the improving economy of California and leveling off of growth in Nevada.

“Eventually, it will come back up statewide as more business moves here and as Nevada attracts more diversified businesses,” Clark said.