Enrollment trend worrisome

Hayden school revenues shrinking annually, no end in sight

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If more families with young children don't start moving to Hayden, the Hayden School District will continue to see declining enrollment, superintendent Mike Luppes told the Hayden School Board on Wednesday night.

Luppes projected the district will have 20 fewer students for the 2005-06 school year, based on expected graduation numbers this spring and kindergarten enrollment in the fall.

The shortfall would mean a loss of about $40,000 in state funding.

"Our declining enrollment is a lack of kids coming into kindergarten, and it's just killing us," Luppes said while discussing preliminary budget numbers with the board.

The district had about 12 fewer students at the beginning of this school year than in 2003-04. The biggest shortfall was at Hayden Valley Elementary School, which had 20 fewer students, though the school gained four new students this month.

Luppes said the district would need about 15 to 20 new students each school year to balance the number of students expected to graduate in the next several years. If current trends continue, however, the district likely will see 10 to 15 fewer students each new school year.

He blamed declining student numbers in part on the town's economic transition from agriculture and mining, which tended to attract bigger families, to an economy based on professionals working in Steamboat Springs and living in more affordable Hayden.

New residents seem to have smaller families or are couples waiting longer to have children, he said.

Talk of impending growth in Hayden and plans for large, entry-level developments provide only a small measure of encouragement, Luppes said.

"We would love to think there will be 40 new houses and 40 new kids (next year), but we've been hoping for that for five years, and it doesn't seem to be happening," he said.

Developers involved in the first phase of the Villages at Hayden project say homes there will start at about $200,000. Although that may be reasonable compared with home prices in Steamboat Springs, it's still too expensive for many families, board members said.

"This so called 'affordable housing' is just out of range," board member Brian Hoza said.

In other business, Luppes presented a proposed schedule for hiring an elementary school principal. Luppes was promoted from the principal position to superintendent last fall.

He still oversees the school, while teacher Rhonda Sweetser organizes and monitors everyday activities.

The district plans to begin advertising the position next week. Interviews would take place in March, and a selection hopefully would be made by the beginning of April, Luppes said.

The board agreed that the interview committee involved in the high school principal hiring process worked well and should be used to help select an elementary school principal. The committee will include two parents, two teachers, a School Board member and school administration.

"I think people felt like they had a lot of input and their voices were heard," Luppes said.

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