Surplus hasn't been part of the South Routt School District's vocabulary for the past six years.
Declining student enrollment, dwindling revenue and the resulting budget cuts have taken their toll on the rural district.
But change appears to be on the horizon. For the first time since Superintendent Steve Jones took the district's reins five years ago, South Routt schools are experiencing an enrollment jump.
As of Thursday, the district is reporting an enrolment increase of 20 students, a significant number for a school system with only 400 students. The unanticipated increase comes as a pleasant surprise for Jones, who has become accustomed to shrinking revenue streams and difficult budget cuts.
"It is exciting," Jones said. "It's the first time in six years we've been up."
Colorado public school districts receive funding on a per-pupil basis, meaning increases in enrollment bring additional revenue for typically cash-strapped districts. However, numerous intricacies in the state's school finance law don't mean districts receive complete per-pupil funding for every student. Kindergarten students, for example, are only half-funded by the state.
Final district enrollments are calculated after the official Oct. 1 pupil-count date. Although South Routt's enrollment increase could vary by the time October comes, there's little doubt there will be more students in South Routt schools this year than there were last year, when the district had an enrollment decrease of 23 students.
Jones is not sure why more students are enrolled this year and said that all three district schools are experiencing growth.
The South Routt School District, as it has in past years, will continue to take advantage of a provision in the school finance law that allows districts to use two-, three- or four-year enrollment averages to help lessen the financial impact of decreasing student populations. Even with this year's increase, Jones said using a four-year enrollment average will allow the district to collect more revenue.
Jones is anticipating a $30,000 revenue increase for the district, all of which will be put into the school system's reserve.
"We won't be making any adjustments based upon the (enrollment increase)," he said. "We won't be adding any staff or anything. We have to bank this money."
The district has cut two teaching positions, a principal position and a paraprofessional position during the past two years in an effort to trim the budget.
Routt County's other two public school districts are expecting enrollment numbers to stay fairly even with projections. As of last week, the Steamboat Springs School District was projecting a funded student count of 1,890 students. The district has more than 1,900 students, but the funded number of students is less because of half-funding for kindergarten students and other provisions. The district budgeted for just less than 1,892 funded students.
In Hayden, district officials are expecting the number of funded students to decrease slightly from last year's numbers but increase over what the district had projected for this year. Superintendent Mike Luppes said it likely will be another week or so before the district has a firm grasp of enrollment numbers because Hayden schools started Tuesday.
"We have a whole bunch of mixed figures," Luppes said.
Regardless, he and other Routt County public school officials will continue to closely monitor enrollment figures given the financial significance they have for districts.
"Those numbers are what our revenue is going to be," Steamboat Springs Superintendent Donna Howell said.
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