Douglas County Schools See Declining Enrollments

Posted by puguh on Monday, January 10, 2011

Douglas County Schools See Declining Enrollments. Douglas County school superintendents blame a poor economy for declining enrollment, which translates into less state funding. They are planning for more spending reductions while hoping state legislators won't make matters worse by cutting education funding.

“I'm an optimist,” Glide School District Superintendent Don Schrader said. “I think the state will come up with the money and fund our schools, but we do need to be prepared if they don't.”

School officials say the lack of jobs is forcing families with school-age children to leave the county. According to the Oregon Department of Education, the number of K-12 students in Douglas County declined by about 1,500 students, nearly 10 percent, between the 2005-06 and 2009-10 school years.

Many superintendents say enrollment is down again this school year, and they expect the trend to continue next year. Even school districts that are seeing a bump in enrollment say they will be conservative when planning budgets for next year.

“These are low-enrollment times,” said Yoncalla Superintendent Marc Thielman, whose district has 30 more students than a year ago but still plans to budget as though the district will lose students next year.

Douglas County schools receive between $5,000 to $6,000 per student. The exact amount depends on the school's population of students with disabilities, those who speak English as a second language and who live in remote areas.

Some school districts report enrollment drops deep enough over the past several years to cause significant revenue losses.

The South Umpqua School District has lost more than 250 students, some 14 percent of its enrollment, since 2006. “There aren't many jobs here in South County,” Superintendent Steve Kelley said.

The Roseburg School District has lost about 700 students, about 10 percent of its student body, over the same period.

Roseburg Superintendent Larry Parsons said the district has 40 fewer students this year than it expected. He said he hopes the decline will at least stop, but he's afraid enrollment won't rebound.

“I'm fearful that once families move away, find jobs and get established elsewhere, they won't want to move back here again,” Parsons said.

Schrader said Glide's enrollment is more than 100 students fewer this year than in 2006. With funding around $5,500 per head, the decrease has been costly.

The district in May closed its Toketee Falls Elementary, which housed about a dozen students. The savings was estimated at around $190,000 a year.

“It's tough. We just do the best we can to not effect the kids when we have to make cuts,” Schrader said.

The state won't release official enrollment figures for the first half of the school year until February, but school districts already have an idea of whether their enrollments are up or down.

Enrollment is up by 46 kids in the Elkton School District, Superintendent Mike Hughes said. He attributed the increase to the reputation of the charter school, which can pull students from around the county.

“Our academics are pretty strong, and our district seems to be stable,” he said.

Still, Hughes said the district will err on the side of caution when establishing a budget for next year.

“We're going to continue to be fairly conservative with our spending,” he said.

Superintendents say they hope state legislators will at least maintain education funding at $5.8 billion when they write a spending plan for the next two-year budget cycle, which begins July 1.

Camas Valley Superintendent Paul Young said it's hard to plan because he doesn't know what legislators will do. Young said he has heard speculation about the level of education funding ranging from $5.4 billion to more than $6 billion.

“We have to build multiple budgets because the state is not forthcoming with budget cut numbers,” he said.

The Legislature will convene Monday, and the session may last as many as 160 days.

State Rep. Tim Freeman, R-Roseburg, said it's too early to tell how much education will get.

“Schools are a core function of the government,” Freeman said. “We'd like to make sure schools have a funding number early so they know what they're dealing with. We also hope that the number is at least the same as last year's.”

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