School board mulls dipping enrollment and staffing |

School board mulls dipping enrollment and staffing

by Scott Neuffer

With official count day today, enrollment figures will determine how the Douglas County School District uses the first part of roughly $1.14 million in emergency federal funding.

The catch? The money must be used for personnel.

Passed in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 10, the education jobs bill will provide the district $1,137,280 for “compensation and benefits and other expenses, such as support services, necessary to retain existing employees, to recall or rehire former employees, and to hire new employees in order to provide early childhood, elementary or secondary educational and related services.”

The one-shot funding can only be used this year and the next fiscal year.

On Tuesday, Superintendent Lisa Noonan presented preliminary enrollment numbers, which were drawn on Sept. 7 and are subject to change. Total enrollment dropped from 6,455 students on count day last year to 6,351 students on Sept. 7, a loss of 104 students, or a 1.6 percent decline.

Enrollment has steadily decreased since the decade’s peak of 7,210 students in 2004-05. In fact, Noonan’s preliminary figures put enrollment close to 1992-93 levels, when Douglas schools saw 6,328 students. In other words, if Tuesday’s numbers don’t change much, enrollment has hit its lowest point in 18 years.

“I’m hoping we’re beginning to stabilize as a community,” Noonan said. “I don’t know where the bottom is.”

The good news is that the district was not unprepared for the dip. Last spring, Chief Financial Officer Holly Luna projected 6,291 students for the current year. Noonan’s Sept. 7 snapshot revealed 60 students more than projected.

Taking into account not only enrollment, but the upcoming legislative session and threats of a $3 billion shortfall, Noonan formulated a two-phase plan detailing how to use the emergency funding.

She proposed drawing up to 35 percent of the funds this year as phase I, approximately $398,000, to use first in conjunction with count day findings.

If high enrollment exists at certain sites, Noonan set spending at $120,000-$220,000 to hire one-year-only teachers rather than pulling staff from schools were enrollment is low.

She said the Douglas County Professional Education Association proposed the same measure to avoid disrupting current classes.

The teacher’s union also proposed rehiring teachers who were laid off at the end of the last school year. Due to declining enrollment, seven teaching positions were eliminated.

Noonan recommended using $120,000 to rehire two teachers as “special assignment” teachers, to be placed where most needed for the remainder of the year.

Following Noonan’s recommendation, principals could then apply for the remainder of phase I funding, approximately $58,000-$158,000, to bolster site intervention monies used for tutoring and other programs, with a priority on using classified staff who’ve had work hours or days reduced in past budget cycles.

The big chunk of emergency funding, $739,000, or 65 percent, should be saved for the 2011-12 fiscal year as part of phase II, Noonan argued, in order to save as many jobs as possible when the state’s “budget cliff” approaches and becomes reality.

“If we anticipate the budget cliff coming, and may have to reduce positions beyond attrition, then we should hire this year for one year only,” Noonan said. “I don’t think we can commit in September 2010 to how far out this money will go. Any jobs offered now need to end in June.”

School board members agreed, voting 6-0, with Cindy Trigg absent, to approve Noonan’s plan as outlined.