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SK School District reports slight enrollment increase at start of 2011-12 year

Enrollment has been treading downward in South Kitsap and many school districts for several years, but the 2011-12 academic year could be an exception.

SKSD financial operations officer Sandy Rotella said during Wednesday’s board meeting that the district had 9,479.28 full-time equivalent  (FTE) students enrolled Sept. 12, which is 23 more than last year.

That date was selected because it was the fourth day of school, which is when school districts are required to calculate enrollment and report their numbers to the state.

SKSD had 9,814 students enrolled on that date, but FTE is computed differently. For example, kindergartners only are counted as 0.5 FTE because most only are in school half of the day. Others, such as high-school seniors, also can be counted as less than one FTE if they start late or end early.

Rotella said the district’s enrollment figures will get a boost in October when Running Start students are counted. While enrollment numbers generally trend downward as students move away or drop out, Rotella sees indications that this year might be better than most.

“Right now we’re seeing a pretty positive trend,” she said. “There is a probability that we could see a flat enrollment.”

That would be significant from a financial standpoint for SKSD. Before this year, the district’s enrollment count was less than the previous September in four of the last five years. Based on annual averages, Rotella said state funding for basic education is $5,112.37 per FTE.

That means SKSD, which had 182 more FTE than it budgeted, would more than $930,000 in basic education funding from the state than projected. Rotella cautioned that is a best-case scenario that is unlikely because she anticipates losing students as the school year progresses.

More students also does not mean a financial windfall for SKSD. Its contract with the South Kitsap Educators Association, similar to other districts, has a cap on the amount of students that can be in each classroom. Because enrollment was higher than anticipated, SKSD added one FTE teacher at East Port Orchard, Manchester, Mullenix Ridge and Sidney Glen Elementary schools. Olalla and South Colby Elementary schools each added 0.5 FTE, while Cedar Heights Junior High increased its staffing by 0.2 FTE.

According to Rotella, South Kitsap High School (151 students) experienced the largest growth in the district, while Orchard Heights Elementary School (54) shrunk the most.

The better-than-projected enrollment numbers might be exclusive to this year. Rotella said that while the junior and senior classes at the high school are large, kindergarten (313.74) and first grade (684.09) numbers are smaller.

Facilities and operations director Tom O’Brien, who projects future enrollment numbers to help anticipate potential building needs in SKSD, said his research indicates that trend will continue until it “bottoms out” in 2014 and begins to increase.

Rotella said there are several factors behind enrollment declines, which have affected many school districts across the country. She said parents not having as many children is one factor.Locally, Rotella said that people buying and renting often are done raising children.

NOTES

• Governor Christine Gregoire recently announced a special legislative session will convene Nov. 28, so lawmakers can deal with a deficit that is expected to be at least $2 billion.

Last December, the state House and Senate passed legislation that encompassed a $50 million reduction from public schools.

That included elimination of funding to keep class sizes smaller in kindergarten through fourth grade.

Those reductions came nearly midway through the school year when South Kitsap and other districts allocated those funds to hire teachers. Because of union contracts, SKSD now-retired assistant superintendent for business and support Terri Patton said the district simply could not layoff those employees.

She estimated that cost the SKSD $795,000 in 2010-11.

Rotella said because the legislative session has not started, SKSD officials “haven’t had specific conversations” about potential reductions.

School board president Kathryn Simpson said political officials need to look into other areas to cut. She and Superintendent Dave LaRose both expressed concern that politicians base decisions on the most vocal special-interest groups.

Simpson said she wants politicians to visit classrooms in SKSD to give them perspective on how cuts might impact education.

• End of the year math examinations revealed positive results at John Sedgwick Junior High. All ninth-graders who took Exam 2 (geometry) met standard. Among freshmen who took Exam 1 (algebra), 83.6 percent met standard. Both figures were more than 15 percent better than the state average. Also, 98.8 percent of eighth graders who took Exam 1 met standard. School officials said one student missed the test, which kept it from achieving a perfect score.

• The on-time graduation rate at South Kitsap High School in 2010 was 92.4 percent, which was significantly higher than the state average (76.5 percent).

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