By the numbers
■ Public school districts (preliminary numbers):
Steamboat Springs: 2,280
South Routt: 388
■ Private schools:
The Lowell Whiteman School: 59
Christian Heritage School: 78
Lowell Whiteman Primary: 66
Steamboat Springs Sixth-graders at Steamboat Springs Middle School made a lot of noise last week as they enjoyed their first lunch break during the school district’s inaugural day of classes.
The traffic they created in the school’s hallways also made it clear that they make up one of the largest sixth-grade classes the district has ever had.
This year, the Steamboat Springs School District projects about 184 sixth-graders are walking the halls of the middle school and getting accustomed to their new surroundings, 14 more than last year.
Enrollment has increased in the district every school year since 2003-04.
“Right now, we’re feeling pretty good about where our enrollment is at,” Superintendent Brad Meeks said Thursday.
While the numbers are preliminary and subject to go up or down slightly before October’s official headcount is submitted to the state for funding purposes, the school district is anticipating about 2,280 students in classes this year, almost 50 more than the 2,233 it had in October last year.
According to the district’s enrollment figures, a significant portion of that growth has come from the addition of students living outside of the school district and who previously attended other schools in Routt County. Last year, the district had 100 students who lived outside school boundaries but attended Steamboat schools through the open enrollment program. This year, that number has risen to 134.
“I think our enrollment rose this year because of the students that switched over from Hayden and Soroco, and from the private schools,” said Dale Mellor, district finance director. “Last year, we got a significant increase from former private school students.”
And this year’s enrollment numbers at the private schools reflect that prediction.
Enrollment at The Lowell Whiteman School and Christian Heritage School remains down. The Lowell Whiteman School’s enrollment decreased to 59 students from 76 last year. And while Christian Heritage School increased its enrollment to 78 students from 72 last year, that’s still well below the 107 students who attended the school two years ago.
Meeks said the influx of students into Steamboat’s public schools has been spread out fairly evenly across grade levels and schools and has not affected district staffing levels. And if the increase in students holds, it will bring in a substantial amount of additional funding for the district. Mellor said each additional full-time student would increase the district’s funding by about $6,400.
“Assuming those numbers hold, the school board will be having some discussions soon about where they’d like to put that funding,” Meeks said.
But Steamboat’s financial gain means a loss for the South Routt and Hayden school districts.
Losing students, funding
In Hayden, Superintendent Mike Luppes said Thursday that his district is expecting 10 to 15 fewer students when classes begin Tuesday, a drop he attributes to a larger senior class that graduated last year and a smaller incoming preschool class.
“We’re hoping this year that the declining enrollment will have bottomed out and will start to move in the opposite direction,” Luppes said.
Hayden’s enrollment has steadily decreased each year since 2002, when the district had 503 students. Today, they are projecting 404 will show up for classes. In 1998, the district had 579 students.
Despite having fewer students, Luppes said the staff is ready for a good academic year.
“We’re all very excited to get off and running,” he said. “We’re looking forward to a great year.”
The enrollment trend is similar in the South Routt School District. This year, Superintendent Scott Mader anticipates an enrollment drop of about 21 students, with most of those coming out of the high school.
“It’s mainly due to the economy,” Mader said. “That’s what has got to pick up for us to get better enrollment. We can’t do much about a family split or someone moving away.”
South Routt’s enrollment has declined each of the past four school years, falling from 442 in 2008 to a projected 388 students this year.
Mader said that to retain and attract kids, his focus will continue to be on academic achievement as the district continues its mission to be Accredited with Distinction by the Colorado Department of Education sometime during the next two school years.
Luppes and Mader said their enrollment drops have not affected their staffing levels, and that their reductions in state funding because of fewer students will not be as high as some might think because they are allowed to average their enrollment numbers over several years because of their small size.
“We will have a drop in funding because of falling enrollment but not at the 10- to 12-student level because of averaging,” Luppes said. “We’re hoping our enrollment trend starts to reverse itself.”
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com