Valley school enrollment mostly on target

Differences between projections and actual enrollment can affect program funding and staffing

The gap between actual and projected enrollment in the Walla Walla School District, 2000-2013.

The gap between actual and projected enrollment in the Walla Walla School District, 2000-2013. Graphic by Ben Wentz

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WALLA WALLA — October enrollment reports are out and school districts around the area are finding out how close they were with their enrollment projections — and whether they’ll have to scrimp or be able to spend with a degree of comfort this school year.

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Enrollment data for regional school districts

Find more enrollment data

The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction has a tool which allows users to search for enrollment and budget reports. The data can be accessed via the OSPI website.

With Washington state providing between $5,000 and $6,000 for each full-time equivalent student (FTE figures count part-time students as fractions of a full-time one), school districts can find themselves with either an abundance of funding and understaffed classrooms, or a money shortage and the prospect of program cuts or staff layoffs.

Or neither, if their budget and enrollment projections are close enough — and that appears to be the case for the schools in the Walla Walla Valley.

Of all the schools in the valley, Walla Walla School District will see its budget shrink the most.

Walla Walla fell about 30 FTEs short of the amount it budgeted for, projecting an enrollment of 6,033 FTEs while seeing actual enrollment at 6,003.7 as of this month.

That number may change, as enrollments can fluctuate month-to-month while state funding is based on the average for the year. But barring a major fluctuation in enrollment, Walla Walla’s public school district will see a deficit of approximately $160,000 in state funding compared to what it budgeted ($32.7 million).

According to district business manager Ted Cohan, that funding gap will be covered by the district’s contingency fund of $200,000.

Nevertheless, that means the district will not have as large a cushion should it face other unforeseen costs.

“There are other things we’d like to be spending that money on,” Superintendent Mick Miller said. “What if a program ends up needing extra money, or if we have to replace a roof on a building?”

Broken up grade-by-grade, the district is seeing the largest enrollment shortfalls in first through fifth grade.

Miller hypothesized that might have something to do with the plans to build a new high school in College Place, which will begin accepting ninth-graders in 2014.

“More students might be deciding to enroll in College Place schools (because of the new high school),” Miller said, “but right now I don’t have enough data to support that.”

For most grade levels, Walla Walla currently assumes most students will advance a grade and stay within the district. But, as this is the second year in a row Walla Walla has undershot its projections, Miller said the district will investigate different ways to estimate its enrollment.

College Place saw its FTEs jump from 735 last September to 827 this September, a year-over-year increase of 12.5 percent. Superintendent Tim Payne said that increase was mostly due to additional state funding for all-day kindergarten, which means kindergartners at College Place are now counted as a full FTE instead of half an FTE.

College Place projections still fell below actual enrollments by quite a bit, however, counting on only 760 FTEs in its 2013-14 budget. Payne said the district was especially conservative with its projections after seeing its enrollment tail off after March of last year.

“We hoped we would see most of those kids return, and it looks like they have,” Payne said.

College Place is having a harder time finding space for its students this year, Payne said, but that’s mostly because of construction on Sager Middle School, not an unexpectedly high enrollment.

Elsewhere in the area, Pomeroy also saw a healthy increase in enrollment at 316 FTEs, 11 more FTEs than last year and 21 more than predicted.

At 227, Touchet had nine more FTEs than expected, but saw an overall decrease in enrollment of 13 compared to last year.

Waitsburg has 283 FTEs, nine more than predicted. Dayton and Prescott fell nominally below their projections, at seven and three FTEs, respectively, below what they budgeted.

In Oregon, projections for both Milton-Freewater and Athena-Weston school districts fell below actual enrollments, by 35 and 29 FTEs, respectively.

Ben Wentz can be reached at benwentz@wwub.com or 526-8315.

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