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12:12 PM Tue, Sept. 18th

Local school districts experiencing declining enrollment

Student enrollment at all three local public school districts is down for the 2010-11 school year.

Ironically, Humboldt Unified School District, the district with the largest enrollment, has the smallest reduction (1.2 percent), while Chino Valley Unified School District, with the lowest enrollment, has the highest decrease in student numbers (4.8 percent).

In the middle of the enrollment pack, Prescott Unified School District's student population is down 3.7 percent, closer to Chino's than Humboldt's.

The State of Arizona provides money to schools based on student enrollment, with the current year's enrollment figures to determine next year's allocation. If enrollment figures remain the same, the districts would have to cut their maintenance and operations budgets.

Based on early enrollment numbers, and using $5,000 as an average student base amount, HUSD could lose about $380,000, CVUSD could lose $615,000 and PUSD could lose more than $1 million.

Officials at all three districts attribute the decline in enrollment to the economy.

HUSD spokesperson Mariela Bean reported that exit surveys "indicate that most people left because of the economy."

Humboldt's 11-day enrollment for the 2010-11 school year was 6,153 students, compared to 2009-10 enrollment of 6,228 - a difference of 76 students.

According to school enrollment numbers, HUSD also is losing students at "transition points," Bean noted.

The sixth grade saw a 36-student decrease; ninth grade, a 29 student decrease; and 12th grade, a 25 student decrease from the 2009-10 school year.

While the second, third, fourth, fifth, seventh and eighth grades also experienced declining enrollment, the first, 10th and 11th grades at HUSD experienced slightly increased enrollment.

Two weeks after school started, Chino Valley officials reported student enrollment decreased district-wide by 123 students.

Superintendent Duane Noggle said despite the overall decline, enrollment at Chino Valley High School increased from 749 at the end of the 2009-10 school year to 794 on Aug. 26, a difference of 45 students.

"JTED (Joint Technology Education District) was also up, which is part of why CVHS was up," Noggle noted.

Chino Valley's declining enrollment occurred at the middle and elementary school levels. Del Rio Elementary School recorded a decline of 75 students in kindergarten through fifth grade, while Territorial Elementary School realized a decrease of 21 students.

At Heritage Middle School, enrollment in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades went from 649 in 2009-10 to 597 for the current year - a decrease of 52 students.

"The economy is the major issue," Noggle said.

Chino Valley Unified will begin exit interviews this year. According to Noggle, kiosks will be available at each school and parents can visit the district website to complete a student exit survey.

Arizona is an open enrollment state, allowing parents to choose which school their children attend. Because of that, Noggle said CVUSD is "losing students to two charter schools - especially children living in Paulden. Still, a large percentage of our declining enrollment is families moving away."

Noggle remains optimistic. "There is not much we can do until the economy turns around. It'll come back," he predicts.

At PUSD, Finance Officer Renee Raskin reported a district-wide decline of 209 students on the 10th day of school.

However, that number includes the loss of 137 Northpoint Expeditionary Learning Academy students. Not counting NELA students, district enrollment dropped by 72 students. Enrollment at PUSD decreased from 5,635 students in 2009-10 to 5,426 for the current year.

Within Prescott Unified, enrollment at the elementary level decreased by 56 students. Washington Traditional School was the only elementary school with increased enrollment, gaining 10 students. At the middle schools, enrollment at Granite Mountain Middle School decreased by eight students, while enrollment at Prescott Mile High Middle School increased by 37 students.

Enrollment at Prescott High School is down 50 students, going from 1,930 this past year to 1,880 on the 10th day of the 2010-11 school year.

According to PUSD Superintendent Dave Smucker, local districts are not alone when it comes to declining enrollment.

"Too many districts across the United States are not looking at enrollment numbers and how they translate into student programs," Smucker said. "We have to get real clever in the way we do things for kids."