Students deluge districts
Tight labor market believed behind jump in enrollment
Megan Elliott is an experienced elementary school teacher, but she wasn’t prepared for an overcrowded kindergarten class.
“We are just actually getting to the point where we can function,” said Elliot, who has 29 children in her class at Spokane’s Whitman Elementary School. “It will be easier when the class is smaller.”
When administrators estimated enrollment figures for Spokane Public Schools, they didn’t anticipate 112 extra kindergartners showing up for class on the first day. The district had to add five classes.
Central Valley and West Valley school districts also had a sudden surge of 5-year-olds.
To accommodate them, area districts have scrambled the past two weeks to hire more teachers and add kindergarten classes.
“We are seeing an influx of families from a distance,” said Melanie Rose, Central Valley School District spokeswoman. “Some people are moving here and into homes with other families.”
The sour economy, once again, is the culprit for unanticipated change.
“People come here to look for jobs because we have the largest job base between Seattle and Minneapolis,” said Doug Tweedy, the regional state labor economist. “They don’t necessarily find jobs, but they move here for better opportunity and the possibility of finding jobs.”
In the past year, population growth in Ferry, Pend Oreille and Stevens counties dropped about 2 percent after five years of keeping pace with the state, according to Northeast Washington Trends, a website operated by Eastern Washington University. Unemployment rates in those counties are in the double digits.
The labor force in Spokane County has grown by 7,000 people in the past year, and most of them are between the ages of 20 and 35, and therefore likely to have children, he added.
Central Valley saw more children than it was expecting as of late summer, and added a class at the last minute. But compared with last year, the district has 33 fewer kindergartners. West Valley is up two kindergarten classes, about 47 youngsters, officials said. Meanwhile, East Valley, Mead and Coeur d’Alene school districts’ kindergarten enrollment remained flat or only increased by two to 10 children.
Bev Lund, Whitman Elementary School’s principal, said kindergartners can be the most challenging.
“Most of them have not been in preschool, so this is their first school experience,” she said.
Kindergartner Justcice Matte was adjusting to it. “It’s fun. But I get too tired.”