Student count down again in district | RecordCourier.com
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Student count down again in district

by Merrie Leininger

Douglas schools may end up with a loss of between 120-200 students on count day this year, which will mean a loss of $497,040 to $828,400 from the state next year.

The school district will receive state funds based on the number of students enrolled on count day, Sept. 22. This year, the district received $4,142 per student.

As of Aug. 30, the district enrollment was down 200 students from count day last year. Last year, the district enrollment was 7,158, down from 7,322 in 1998-99.

District Business Services Director Rick Kester said the decline seems to clearly be related to fewer young couples moving to the county. The biggest losses are in the primary grades, specifically, kindergarten. Kester said, last year, enrollment was down 164 students, and seven teaching positions were cut this school year as a result.

He said if enrollment is as low as projected on count day, the district would next year cut five to seven positions in the primary grades to help reduce costs. However, he said that is not the only cut in order to balance next year’s budget.

“We have to first look at all of our balances, because the entire financial picture is not entirely related to enrollment. When we have the final count, we will go about the hard business of looking at where we need to cut. Until final numbers are in, we are not going to overreact or underreact. Obviously, we going to be very conservative with spending. If someone came to us with a staff request, unless it was related to safety or an important educational issue, we would be very reluctant to add staff,” Kester said.

“The thing that worries us the most is, again, we’re very short of kindergartners and that’s the problem. Our middle schools are about where we thought we would be. At the elementary level, we are very weak, especially at the youngest students,” Kester said. “In the middle schools, grades 6, 7 and 8, district-wide, those grade levels have a student population of around 600, at each school. The year before last we had a kindergarten of 400 district-wide. Right now, as of today, we are at 350-360 (kindergarten students). That has really large implications, because those roll through everything else.”

n Continued trends. Last year was the first year in many that enrollment had dropped. However, for the past couple of years, district enrollment had only grown by a few students.

“Last year was our first drop, even though enrollment was flat. Last year we had a 2 percent drop and this kind of continues that trend. Of course, if you look at the past trends, we will pick up about 80 students before count day,” Kester said.

Kester said the gains were at Gardnerville Elementary School, with 30 more students, Minden Elementary School with 30 additional students and Jacks Valley Elementary School with 11 new students.

“Gardnerville’s (growth is) a bit of a surprise, but Gardnerville really was first to come off (multi-track) because of their facility. If you look at the area, there is a lot of potential for growth. A few years ago, when we expected a lot of students from Chichester, we only got about 10-15, but now it is up to 50-60 students, so that is starting to fill in. And now, you have the new housing on Elges,” Kester said.

Kester said once the new wing at Minden Elementary School is built, a change in zoning could relieve some of the pressure at GES.

In the next few years, the district plans to build a new wing at GES, but Kester said it won’t increase the school’s capacity.

“The addition at Minden was the insurance for growing enrollment at Gardnerville. The addition at Gardnerville just modernizes their school. In the end, we will take them out of the old Heritage building and turn that into offices, so they don’t gain capacity through the whole process.”

Kester said GES teaching staff is coping well with the increased enrollment, and one teacher was transferred from Pinon Hills Elementary School to help out. He said a half-time clerical position had to be added. Kester said the secretarial staff was cut from four to two positions when the school went to single track, which is the average amount of clerical positions for a single track school. Because of increased enrollment, the half-time position was added.

Kester said the district expected gains at Douglas High School to push enrollment close to 1,500, but it lost about 30 students and will be closer to 1,400.

Kester said the largest drops in enrollment occurred at Zephyr Cove Elementary School and the Ranchos elementary schools.

“The largest drops continue to be at the Lake and the two elementary in the Ranchos, particularly Scarselli. Zephyr is down to 297. (Scarselli) is down 80 students from last year and that trend continues from three years ago, when they lost 120. So they have lost almost 200 in the last four or five years,” Kester said. “Clearly, the district’s plan to take them off (multi-track) next is going to be done.”

The final enrollment and proposals for budget cuts will be presented to the school board at the Oct. 10 meeting at Carson Valley Middle School.