Steamboat Springs Faced with another year of declining student enrollment, the South Routt School Board is considering the possibility of building a new elementary school in Stagecoach as part of an effort to keep families in the district.
School Board President Tim Corrigan said Thursday that he wants the board to start talking seriously about adding a new school on a 9-acre parcel of district-owned land across from the Eagle’s Nest subdivision in Stagecoach. Corrigan said families in the South Routt community who send their children to Steamboat for school could be better served by a school closer to home.
“We have an obligation to serve those kids,” Corrigan said. “We need to start looking at the possibility of opening up a new school there if we’re serious about keeping kids in Stagecoach from leaving our school district.”
The South Routt School District has 390 students attending their schools this year, down from 409 students last year. Enrollment in the district has declined each of the past four school years. The district had 442 students in 2008.
Corrigan said last week’s discussion of what could be an extension of the South Routt Elementary School in Yampa was the first step in planning for possible growth in the Stagecoach community. He acknowledged that growth still could be years away. The School Board expressed interest in first finding out how many students in Stagecoach could be served by a new school before discussing it further.
A kindergarten- through sixth-grade charter school in Stagecoach proposed in 2009 never came to fruition.
Battered by economy
South Routt Superintendent Scott Mader said the district’s enrollment numbers this year indicate that three families took their students out of schools in South Routt and enrolled them in the Steamboat Springs School District, but most of the students who didn’t return this year left Routt County entirely.
Corrigan said that trend makes it more important to retain every student living in South Routt.
“We certainly need to maintain every effort to retain the students we have living in our community,” he said. “I believe an elementary school in Stagecoach would be a huge factor in helping to do that.”
Meanwhile in Hayden, Superintendent Mike Luppes this week told his school board the district’s enrollment numbers are the only downside to a successful start to the school year.
As of Sept. 19, the district had 383 students enrolled in its three schools, a drop from 420 students last year. In 1998, the district had 579 students.
“I’m afraid that’s just a sign of our economy and the time we’re in here,” he said. “Families just left the area. They didn’t have jobs, and they could not support themselves.”
Luppes said that although students have left the district in past years to attend schools in Steamboat, district records this year show that only one family with two kids living in Hayden switched from the Hayden School District to Steamboat.
Losing students, funding
While administrators in South Routt and Hayden say their drops in enrollment this year largely are attributed to the economy and families moving out of their communities, a significant number of students still are utilizing the Steamboat Springs School District’s open enrollment program.
According to the Steamboat district, 104 students living within the boundaries of the Hayden and South Routt school districts are enrolled in schools in Steamboat, down from an earlier projection of more than 130 students last month. The school district said last month’s estimate dropped because a number of out-of-district students physically moved to Steamboat this year or moved out of the county entirely.
Steamboat Springs School District Finance Director Dale Mellor said last month that open enrollment students and those switching to public schools from private schools have accounted for a significant portion of the Steamboat district’s growth in recent years.
Superintendent Brad Meeks told the Steamboat Springs City Council last week the district had about 2,282 students enrolled, up from the 2,233 who were enrolled in October last year.
Enrollment numbers in all of the school districts still are subject to change before final counts are submitted to the state next month.
In Hayden and South Routt, Luppes and Mader said this year’s enrollment drops have not affected their staffing levels, and the reductions in state funding they are expecting because of those drops will not be as high as some might think since districts are allowed to average their headcounts throughout several years to lessen the financial impact of declining enrollments.
In Hayden, for example, while the district is down 37 students from last year, Luppes told the School Board he anticipates a funded pupil count drop of only 5.7 students because of averaging.
“We’ll continue to realize that drop, but hopefully we’ll bottom out soon,” he said.
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email ScottFranz@SteamboatToday.com