Enrollment dips in most Clallam districts

Most North Olympic Peninsula school districts are recording declines in student enrollment early this school year as educators and administrators manage the fallout of a virus that stands to impact how K-12 education is delivered for years to come.

The only district that has not had a decline in enrollment is Cape Flattery.

Seeking to bridge a funding gap tied to lower enrollment, some area districts may be forced to cut staffing levels and introduce furloughs for employees.

Enrollment will be a school-year long consideration for each district.

Sequim School Superintendent Rob Clark said the district enrollment is 2,498 students, down 99 students from its 2020-21 budget model and between 185-190 students in total from 2019-20.

“The overwhelming majority of that decrease is reflected in our K-5 enrollment,” Clark said last week.

“These are loose estimates, but we probably lost 40 percent of those students to homeschool, 40 percent to online academies and 20 percent to local private schools.”

Clark said Sequim’s budget deficit was between $1 million to $1.1 million, but leftover CARES Act funding may be to cover a good portion of the difference.

“Based on what I was told in a regional superintendents’ meeting, there are further guidelines on the use of CARES dollars and they can potentially back-fill some revenue loss because of enrollment decline.”

Clark said the district would keep a close watch on student enrollment and discuss the budget situation in November.

“We are not laying off or furloughing any employees as of right now,” Clark said. “We will revisit the enrollment picture at the first school board meeting in November. That way we will have two more months of enrollment to look at.

“I think we will be OK if our enrollment remains steady. We were able to save some money over the final half of last year as expenditures were considerably less in the last six months of 19-20.”

The district has trimmed 40 staff positions compared to the previous academic year, Clark said Monday night.

Here’s where other Clallam County school districts, most of which will will begin to move from online-only to a hybrid of remote and in-person learning on Monday, stand on enrollment after a month of instruction:

Port Angeles

Having recorded a little more than a 7-percent reduction in its full-time equivalent student enrollment from a 2019-20 average of 3,519 to 3,269 in September, the Port Angeles School District is looking at a budget gap of between $2.7 to $2.8 million.

District Superintendent Marty Brewer said he hopes to present a plan to address the funding issues to the school board Thursday.

Kira Acker, district finance and operations manager, provided context on how student enrollment is tied to school funding.

“The state uses a formula that gives us a certain amount of funding per student,” Acker said. “Using round numbers, every full-time student is funded at about $8,900 per year. Not all kids are full time, each student that is enrolled has a percentage. We receive more dollars for career and technical education enrollees and an additional stipend for special education students.”

Acker said the district has tried “to be as creative as possible with funding so we are cutting as little as possible and reallocating our funds as much as possible to make sure people stay on.”

She said she and Brewer have worked to keep a balanced budget in light of reduced enrollment and increased staffing costs, the highest expense in a district budget.

“We really don’t have a rainy day fund to tap into. That’s why we have had to make reductions (in previous years) because there isn’t a fund balance that we can fall back on,” Acker said. “That’s been a focus for Marty and I, balancing, and trying to keep people’s jobs, because you don’t want to cut jobs and grow a fund balance.

“A financially healthy district has a fund balance of at least a month’s worth of payroll. We are at close to $4 million in payroll per month, and we are right there and we cannot allow that to drop.”

As to where the students have gone, Acker and Brewer each pointed to a 40-student reduction in kindergarten enrollment as a large factor.

“We didn’t see as many kindergartners show up this year, we are down about 40 students, and the thinking is parents might be waiting to enroll their kinders until we go back into being back in the building (for in-person classes).”

“Running Start enrollment with Peninsula College was pretty similar to what we see each year. Across the board, kids went to private school or parents decided to homeschool.”

The district has seen explosive growth in its online Seaview Academy, which has seen 699 students who were in Port Angeles classrooms in 2019-20 move to the alternate learning experience thus far this school year, bringing Seaview’s total enrollment just shy of 750 students.

“The appeal is there is no time frame for when the learning will happen,” Acker said. “My kids have to login at certain times and turn assignments in at specific times. Some parents needed that flexibility.”

Crescent

Crescent School District has seen enrollment dip in its traditional education (40.51 FTE) and Olympic Peninsula HomeConnection program (17.18).

The district counted 189.72 traditional students and 109.6 OPHC students in September counts, down from March enrollment of 230.23 and 126.78, respectively.

Superintendent Dave Bingham said the district anticipates enrollment increasing between 20 and 25 students based on updated OSPI guidance and nine Crescent Running Start students who were not included in initial counts.

Crescent restricted out-of-district enrollment this year to ensure it could maintain social distancing. That, Bingham said, was a factor in lower enrollment.

“One of the factors that has stifled us is we may have another student in another school district attracted to smaller class sizes and more direct interaction,” Bingham said. “We restricted choice transfer into the district and not accepted some from other districts because it would create a square footage issue (for physical distancing in classrooms). When we get back to the more traditional model, I think we can recover more students.”

Bingham said the district will to dip into its fund balance to cover the gap in enrollment collections.

“Lucky for us, we do have a significant fund balance, kind of a rainy day fund, and it’s raining,” Bingham said. “We will access our fund balance to keep more people working.”

Quillayute Valley

Enrollment is down about 8 percent in the Quillayute Valley School District, according to Superintendent Diana Reaume.

“Brick and mortar, we were at 960 students last September and in the first count we did we were at 886 (as of Sept. 9),” she said.

“We lost a lot of students at the high school to Running Start and the other big area where we saw a decline was with our elementary school students.”

The budgetary hit from reduced enrollment is significant, Reaume said.

“That’s about $1.2 million, although our budget looks strange because we have 2,500 students in an online program (Insight School of Washington, a statewide virtual learning program in place since the 2009-10 school year).

Reaume said the district has leaned on reserves to keep its staff whole thus far.

“We have not furloughed anyone or done any (reduction in force),” Reaume said. “We have transitioned our staff to fill other roles such as our paraeducators serving as learning coaches in our online platform.

“We are really doing it on a month-by-month basis. Our undesignated and reserve funds will carry on the capacity to keep us fully staffed. In January, the legislative session will begin and we will learn of potential cuts, and that’s when we will reassess the situation.”

Cape Flattery

An early decision to continue with remote learning and varied educational models helped Cape Flattery School District maintain enrollment at pre-pandemic levels, according to Superintendent Michelle Parkin.

The district served 383 students in Neah Bay and 124 in Clallam Bay last school year, and Parkin said those numbers remain steady.

“No, we haven’t seen a decline,” Parkin said. “We have been very proactive in providing different methods of instruction to meet each family’s needs. I think that by making the determination in early August to go into the remote model for the fall, our parents were prepared as were our teachers.

“And the key to being able to retain our population is the level of support we can offer each family. Due to our size, we can reach out and provide technical support and the social emotional support to the students as well as the parents.”

Parkin said the district anticipates funding challenges later this school year.

“We know there are challenges ahead in maintaining our staff when we are anticipating and planning for possible cutbacks this year,” Parkin said. “With a change to remote learning, there are duties our staff has never been engaged in, so we are assessing current staff duties and stepping up to meet the overall need. When we do enter into a hybrid model, the workload will increase across the board.

“We have money in our general fund that we are using to cover the extra costs that have derived from COVID-19. Increased costs in sanitization, technology costs, having to provide (internet) hot spots for students. This is all a focus of discussion at the (school) board level right now.”

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