The number of students enrolled at Valley school districts is all over the map, with some districts hardly changing. East Valley, however, was 164 students short on the first day of school, a number that has rebounded somewhat. West Valley is on the other end of the spectrum, seeing an increase of nearly 100 students at the high school alone.
Student numbers are crucial to districts. The state pays $5,000 for each full-time student, providing the lion’s share of a district’s income. Each spring, districts estimate how many students will enroll in the fall and budget accordingly. A huge drop in enrollment means the district will have too many teachers on staff and not enough money to pay for them. A steep increase forces a district to scramble and hire teachers at the last minute.
The numbers have been creeping up in East Valley since the first day’s worry-inducing numbers. Part of the problem was that the district’s online program wasn’t up and running when the official count was taken on the fourth day of school. “We recovered about 100 kids,” said Superintendent John Glenewinkel.
Though those students are now enrolled, the state won’t pay the district for them until the next scheduled enrollment count date on Oct. 1. “We will catch up with those students eventually,” he said.
Even with the dramatic drop in students, the district has been forced to hire a few part-time teachers for grade levels and areas with a lot of students because the teachers already on staff weren’t qualified in those areas. At the same time, other teachers have smaller classes than usual because of the missing students.
Glenewinkel said that if enrollment doesn’t continue to rebound, the district will be short $300,000. “At the end of the year if the numbers don’t go up then we will be facing an issue,” he said.
That shortfall would have been higher, but four teachers who were offered contracts decided at the last minute not to return to the classroom, he said. He’s hoping that the district’s online program will continue to grow and there will be an emphasis on limiting student turnover.
As bad as the numbers look right now, it could have been worse. The district’s projected enrollment used in the budgeting process was lower than the number of students who attended last year. “We were projecting that our eighth-grade class was smaller,” he said. “We had budgeted to lose 100 at the high school. We lost 60 more.”
At least 14 of those missing high school students ended up in West Valley, which is a popular choicing option for students in the Central Valley, West Valley and Spokane districts. This year the high school has 180 choice students, up from 175 last year, said Deputy Superintendent Doug Matson. This year’s crop includes 40 East Valley students compared to the 26 who attended last year.
The huge gains at the high school were offset by losses at a few of the elementary schools, making West Valley up 75 students district-wide over last year, said Matson. While the district was expecting some growth, that number is 40 more than the district budgeted for.
New teachers were hired at Orchard Center Elementary and Ness Elementary, while classes in social studies, English, math and P.E. were added at the high school. “The freshman class is a big class,” Assistant Superintendent Gene Sementi said at a recent school board meeting.
Numbers are also up at Central Valley, which expected to see 11,850 students in September, an increase of 80 over last year’s number. Instead, the district counted 11,935 students on its official count day.
Several perennially overcrowded schools are still bursting at the seams, including Liberty Lake Elementary and Greenacres Middle School. This year the district installed a new portable building with two classrooms at Greenacres Middle School because of a large incoming sixth-grade class. While some students are still being overflowed to North Pines Middle School, if the portable hadn’t been installed, an entire sixth-grade class of 30 students would have been left with nowhere to go.
The small Freeman and Liberty districts are holding steady, which is a feat in and of itself for Liberty. This year the district counted 448 students when it budgeted for 444. A few more students will be counted when Running Start students are added to the tally. “We finished the year last year at 454,” said Superintendent Bill Motsenbocker. “We’ve had issues with declining enrollment in our area. We just went ahead and planned on having 10 fewer kids, but that hasn’t panned out. We actually gained some kids last year and things have been starting to pick up.”
The district has lost an average of 13 students every year for the last 13 years, he said. This year’s bump is a welcome sight, he said. “It makes life a lot easier if your enrollment is going up and not down.”
Freeman, by luck or extremely good guessing, has 850 students, exactly the number the district budgeted for. “We’d like to be a few over budget,” said Superintendent Sergio Hernandez. “We’re pleased with where we are, but we’d always like to be over budget.”