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Fri, Feb. 21

Enrollment declining at local school districts

Local school districts are reporting a decline in student enrollment.

The reason, according to the superintendents, is the flagging economy. Students are no longer playing musical chairs and moving from district to district. Instead, the declining local job market is forcing families to move out of the area.

The state allocates money to schools based on 100-day enrollment figures. This year, the 100th day was Jan. 26.

Enrollment is not connected with attendance. Enrollment comprises the number of students currently registered with a school, rather than the number of students attending school on a given day.

The state of Arizona pays each school district a base level amount for each student on the rolls at the 100-day mark. Currently, the base level is $3,200 per student. However, weighted formulas can increase the amount districts receive for a variety of students. Because of this, school officials average the base amount with the weighted amount when trying to determine the amount of money they will receive from the state. Officials use those same figures to estimate the amount of revenue the district will lose because of declining enrollment.

Prescott, Humboldt and Chino Valley school districts are all experiencing declining enrollment this school year. Their 100-day counts are unofficial because the Department of Education has not verified student counts.

After seven years of growth, Prescott Unified School District Superintendent Kevin Kapp said the district is experiencing a 2.2 percent decline in enrollment. The preliminary numbers show a decrease of 116 students from the 2008-09 school year.

PUSD officials use a $5,000 per student amount to determine revenue. At that level, losing 166 students will cost the district $580,000.

The Humboldt Unified School District uses $4,000 to determine its enrollment revenue. The district experienced a 1.5 percent 100-day enrollment decline of 138 students from the 2008-09 enrollment. The estimated lost revenue is $552,000.

"With the economy the way it is on a state and local level, I am feeling pretty good that our numbers are holding where they are," HUSD Superintendent Dr. Henry Schmitt said.

Schmitt said the district would have suffered a greater loss if not for "out-of-district" students. Schmitt said the district's marketing campaign attracted 264 new students from neighboring districts. The majority - 130 students - came from the Mayer School District. HUSD also picked up 37 students from the Chino Valley Unified School District, two from the Mingus School District and 95 from PUSD.

CVUSD officials are reporting an unofficial 2.17 percent decline in average daily membership (ADM). The loss of 90 students translates into a loss of $450,000, if the district calculates daily per student revenue at $5,000.

CVUSD Superintendent Duane Noggle does not think the district's new four-day school week contributed to the loss of students. The decline, he said, "is problematic. (But) we are still seeing a cost savings in the four-day week."

All three superintendents think declining enrollment is the result of the economy.

"People are losing their jobs and their homes. They are moving to Phoenix or back east. This is not what we saw in the past when we had competition between districts," Noggle said.

Schmitt thinks declining enrollment is a reflection of a "popular trend for the coming years. People are more mobile; that's always been the nature of Humboldt (school district)."

Every district in the state is waiting for the Department of Education to verify their enrollment numbers.

PUSD Information Specialist Beth Zachary said districts report enrollment numbers to the state electronically every two weeks.

The state takes those numbers and all other pertinent information and compares each new set of numbers to first each school, then the school district and finally statewide. This aggregation process ensures that districts count each student at the proper school for the correct number of days.

It is that final aggregation that determines the amount of ADM money school districts receive from the state.

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