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Declining enrollment in CK schools is here to stay

A long range enrollment graphic shows the projected enrollment for the 2011-12 school year as 10,051, a decrease in nearly 2,000 students from 2006-07.  - CKSD courtesy graphic
A long range enrollment graphic shows the projected enrollment for the 2011-12 school year as 10,051, a decrease in nearly 2,000 students from 2006-07.
— image credit: CKSD courtesy graphic

As student enrollment numbers continue to drop, Central Kitsap School District staff and administrators are growing nervous for the estimated decrease in 2,000 students by 2012.

“We don’t know exactly why (enrollment is decreasing),” said CKSD Executive Director of Business and Operations Paul McNeill. “We know factors that influence enrollment.”

Based on enrollment studies from past school years, the first drop was in kindergarten students during the 1997-98 school year. Unfortunately it produced a domino effect for all other grades with student enrollment declining ever since.

After conducting both a birth/death ratio study and a migration study of families that either move out of or into the CKSD area, McNeill said enrollment numbers are forecasted to continue their downward trend. Without direct factors relating to decreased enrollment, McNeill said future projections are made based on assumptions and predictions of current trends.

“Enrollment started going down for kindergarten in the 1997-98 school year,” McNeill said, adding that by the end of the 2007-08 school year, students at the peak of enrollment in 1997-98 will be gone. “Based on that prediction, we expect K-12 to decline after the 07/08 school year.”

Having a ripple affect across the CKSD budget, as shown with the closure of both Tracyton and Seabeck elementary schools, the continual decline in enrollment also will have an affect on the amount of Heavy Impact Aid the school district will receive.

Because the district receives money for federally connected students, McNeill said fewer students means less money, causing the school district to adjust teacher numbers, support staff, facility costs and non-employee-related costs.

“The fewer federally connected children we have, the less revenue we get,” McNeill said.

To remain within the Heavy Impact Aid qualifications, CKSD must have at least 35 percent of federally connected students.

“We are worried about No Child Left Behind because it raises the bar to 45 percent,” he explained, adding that CKSD’s federally connected student population currently sits at 47 percent. “We cannot afford to have Heavy Impact Aid students drop below 45 (percent).”

Although McNeill said the school district currently does not see any factors that would indicate this would happen, he said based on a demographic study the school district requested, enrollment declines are a county and state-wide problem.

“There is a direct correlation between the full time enrollment (FTE) numbers and the budget,” said CKSD Superintendent Greg Lynch. “Declining enrollment has a significant impact on the availability of programs and infrastructure. We will not likely have the same number of programs and the same infrastructure that we had when our enrollment was at its highest in 1998.”

In 2002, McNeill explained that enrollment in the K-6 grades was going down, whereas student population for grades 7-12 was going up. In 2005, grades K-9 were going down and McNeill said this is when the district noticed the increase in enrollment decline. From the 1997-98 to 2006-07 school years, McNeill said the district has seen an overall drop of approximately 1,000 students. From 2007-08 to 2011-2012 school years, that number is expected to double, projecting that CKSD will be a 10,000-student school district by the end of 2012.

“After 2008, all grades will go down,” McNeill said. “At least for the next 12 years.”

McNeill added that a recent property assessment of Kitsap County showed property values have gone up 21 percent in 2007 alone, making the Central Kitsap area less affordable for families.

“It’s becoming a very expensive place to live,” he said, adding that it is getting more difficult for families with school-age children to live in this area, making places like Bremerton and Port Orchard seem more affordable. “All things that affect enrollment are only predicted though.”

Should enrollment numbers continue to decline in the current pattern, McNeill said the school district is anticipating a budget deficit for the future. A situation which might include staff and facility adjustments. Without specifics of what the school district will do for next year regarding the current budget deficit, McNeill said the district bases practically the entire budget on projected enrollment.

“Student enrollment and projections of future enrollment are the cornerstone of strategic budget development and planning,” Lynch added. “Our task is to provide the best learning environment within existing resources and remain focused on our number one goal (of) maximizing student achievement.”

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