Steamboat Springs School District enrollment on the rise
Numbers down at most other county public and private schools
September 19, 2010
Steamboat Springs — To the surprise of the Steamboat Springs School District and despite a lagging economy and fewer jobs, student enrollment is up this year.
According to a Sept. 9 student enrollment summary report, the district's enrollment has grown by 64 students, or about 3 percent, from last year to 2,236. The number includes enrollment for the North Routt Community Charter School, which receives its state funding through the district.
For the second consecutive year, the district's enrollment will break a record. And district officials aren't exactly sure why.
"It's very curious to grill down and see where the growth is," Superintendent Shalee Cunningham told the Steamboat Springs School Board on Monday night.
The district had anticipated zero growth — that it would have the same number of students return in 2010-11 that attended its schools a year ago. Cunningham thought last year's growth, 33 students, was the result of factors related to an economic recession.
Part of the growth is attributed to the addition of the Yampa Valley School to the district. The Northwest Colorado Board of Cooperative Educational Services operated the alternative high school last year. That still leaves about 40 new students unaccounted for.
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Last year, Cunningham said she thought more students had transferred from Steamboat's private schools than had moved away from the district. This year, she's less sure.
"I think we still have kids coming from the private schools, and honestly, we have people coming in town," she said.
More students don't appear to be coming from outside the district. Like last year, Cunningham said the number of students who attend Steamboat schools but live within Hayden and South Routt school district boundaries remains the same, at 80.
Despite the growth, Cunningham said student-to-teacher ratios — about 20 to 1 at the elementary level and 25 to 1 at the high school — won't be affected.
The enrollment for Steamboat and other Routt County public school districts is unofficial until Oct. 1, when the official student count is taken and forwarded to the state.
The student count is plugged into the state's Public School Finance Act formula to determine the amount of per-pupil funding schools receives from Colorado.
Across the county
Because its 2010 senior class of 42 students outpaced this year's kindergarten class of 30, the Hayden School District expected to see a dip in enrollment, Superintendent Mike Luppes said last week.
Hayden decreased to 422 students from 438 last year.
"Our enrollment issues are almost entirely based on just flat out declining enrollment," he said. "We do have some students go to other districts, but quite frankly, we have more students coming to the district from other districts than leaving."
The 42-member Class of 2011 will be the largest for a while, Luppes said. He said the junior, sophomore and freshman classes number in the 30s. At Hayden Valley Elementary School, he said no grade level is larger than 30 students.
Luppes said the declining enrollment was partly the result of economic triggers forcing families to leave Hayden. He added that in rural communities, ranching and farming families aren't as large as they used to be, which also affects enrollment.
But Luppes said the district's enrollment saw a boost from the preschool, what he called one the of the largest in the past decade.
"Hopefully, and knock on wood, that bodes for things to come and larger kindergarten classes coming up," he said.
The South Routt School District also is seeing a dip in enrollment.
South Routt Superintendent Scott Mader said the district is down 21 students to 414, but he said the funded count is nearly even with last year.
Because the state only pays about half the full per-pupil funding amount for preschoolers and kindergartners, they are not counted as full-time students.
He said the biggest difference is preschool, which has 16 fewer students.
This year's preschool enrollment decreased to 30 students, he said. Mader said the program intentionally was scaled back in an effort to make it self-supporting.
At the elementary, middle and high schools, Mader said enrollment didn't decrease much since last year.
"We kind of thought we'd be in the ballpark," he said comparing this year to last year. "It's probably down just a little bit because of the downturn in construction."
Steamboat doesn't operate a preschool program.
Chris Taylor, head of school at The Lowell Whiteman School, said enrollment decreased four students to 76, which follows a trend of consistent decline during the past several years. The school had 106 students in 2006-07.
He said last week that enrollment at many independent schools is down this year.
"This year will be the worst year for private schools since the Great Depression. That's how bad it is. That's my impression," Taylor said. "You really have to work hard to attract students."
But Taylor hopes that trend soon will be reversed at Whiteman. The school hired Derek Svennungsen this year to serve as director of admissions, a position it didn't have last year. Taylor has little doubt that the school eventually will reach 110 students.
"This truly is an extraordinary program here," he said. "There's nothing like it in the country. I just think we have to do a better job of marketing and recruiting. I don't think we'll have a hard time at all."
Whiteman, which charges boarding students $33,900 annual tuition and day students $18,200, is providing financial aid to 30 percent of its students this year, Taylor said.
Christian Heritage School, a private K-12 school just west of Steamboat city limits, saw a drastic drop in enrollment this year to 76 students from 107 last year. Like Whiteman, the school continues a trend of declining enrollment in recent years.
Christian Heritage, which charges annual tuition of about $6,500 for elementary students and $7,000 for middle school and high school students, is providing financial aid to 22 percent of its students. That's down from 55 percent last year.
Administrator Dave Entwistle said while the need for assistance remains high and the school continues to work with families, Christian Heritage scaled back the amount of financial aid it provided this year to become "more healthy financially."
Entwistle said he thought providing less financial aid also could have resulted in the school losing students.
Entwistle said Christian Heritage has lost some students to public schools.
He said the school's reputation is not as strong as it's been in the past and that also could have contributed to the lower enrollment.
Entwistle said there was a lot of teacher turnover between last year and this year, but he thinks careful staff hires have put Christian Heritage in a good position to start rebuilding that reputation.
"As we begin to raise the bar academically, we'll attract more kids," he said.
Meanwhile, the enrollment at Lowell Whiteman Primary School in downtown Steamboat has stayed relatively flat for the past decade. The school still has a waiting list, and the amount of financial aid it provides to students has increased, Head of School Nancy Spillane said last week.
She said the school is providing more than $153,000 in scholarships this year, up from about $101,000 a year ago. Annual tuition is $12,900 to the K-8 school. Admissions Director Debbie Gooding said Whiteman Primary is providing financial assistance to 30 percent of the school's students this year.
Federal help increases
Like the private schools, which for the most part are providing more financial aid, the Routt County school districts have seen an increase in assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National School Lunch Program. The program provides lunches to students for free or at a reduced cost based on family income.
In only the second week of school, Luppes couldn't say whether the number of students participating in the free and reduced lunch program had increased in Hayden but said the district anticipates it to.
Mader said students participating in the program jumped to 40 percent from 24 percent at this time last year.
Cunningham didn't have a specific number for Steamboat but said it was way up.
"It's the economy," she said.