Enrollment Follows Jobs In N. Idaho Rural School Districts Report Losses; Private Schools Take Overflow In Crowded Post Falls

Strong enrollment growth is continuing this year in Kootenai County’s public and private schools, but North Idaho’s rural districts are losing students.

Enrollment at more populous districts such as Lakeland increased by 171 students over last year, while rural districts such as Bonner County plummeted by 157 students.

Kellogg, Mullan, Plummer-Worley, Bonner and Boundary County school district enrollments all dropped.

Mullan School District Superintendent Robin Stanley suspects the decline is mirroring a decreasing number of traditional resource-based jobs.

“In the Silver Valley there’s still not the available employment there was. As we boost our new tourism economy, people are finding they can’t raise a family on minimum wage with no benefits,” Stanley said.

Stanley notes the irony of state officials pushing for charter schools to ease an enrollment crunch.

“Who needs ease? I need help.”

The Plummer-Worley School District dropped by 50 students, the Boundary School District lost 75 students, but Bonner County experienced the most severe decline.

Such significant enrollment declines can be difficult to absorb for smaller districts with limited funding. Stanley said his district will continue to cut back on staffing.

Boundary County School District Superintendent Reid Straabe said the decline in numbers there translates to a $24,000 loss of revenue. Bonner County’s drop from 6,159 to 6,014 residents threatens to further cripple the district’s already destitute financial situation.

According to district records clerk Charlotte Palmer, approximately 90 percent of those leaving are moving out of the county.

As teaching jobs in rural districts dwindle, Kootenai County’s school districts are scrambling to hire more staff.

The Coeur d’Alene School District mushroomed by more than 200 students this year, prompting the school district to certify an emergency levy in order to hire more teachers and buy more supplies.

Lakeland’s growth prompted the district to consider bringing aboard four additional teachers. Students were given new schedules after the unexpected enrollment growth required the district to balance out classes, said eighth-grader Nathan Herbst.

“It makes a difference when you get a lot of new students because it can crowd up lockers and halls just a teeny bit,” Herbst said. “It’s good that we’re getting a new school next year.”

Assistant Superintendent Ron Schmidt attributed the increase to a number of housing developments in the Athol and Spirit Lake areas that grew over the summer. A new junior-senior high is expected to open in the fall of 1998.

The Post Falls School District’s 44-student increase (about 1 percent) shows a significantly slower growth rate than the past few years’ 4.5 percent. But that’s not necessarily a sign of fewer students moving into the region.

Private schools in the Post Falls area all experienced large enrollment increases. Falls Christian Academy shot up by 20 students. Immaculate Conception Boys’ School and St.

Dominic Girls School also rose in numbers, together schooling over 300 students.

Pioneer School, a private academy in the Spokane Valley, also took in 17 more Idaho students this fall.

In Hayden Lake, North Idaho Christian School is operating at capacity with 251 students, and requests are still coming in.

“A lot of people are saying they are choosing to home-school because there just aren’t enough private schools in the area to meet the demand,” said North Idaho Christian School’s Sandy Douglas.

After opening its doors with 58 students last year, Holy Family Catholic School’s enrollment grew to 82 this year after the school added a fourth grade. It too, has parents on waiting lists.

Ray Cummings, principal at Lake City Junior Academy, said the Seventh Day Adventist school has been trying to control its growth at between 6 percent to 10 percent annually.

“Many private schools are enlarging and I hear of new ones opening all the time,’ Cummings said.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo


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