Seventh-grader Erica Moos visits with friends during lunch Friday afternoon at Steamboat Springs Middle School. All Routt County school districts are anticipating enrollment growth this year.

Photo by John F. Russell

Seventh-grader Erica Moos visits with friends during lunch Friday afternoon at Steamboat Springs Middle School. All Routt County school districts are anticipating enrollment growth this year.

Steamboat school district: Enrollment growth soon will end

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Yampa Valley Medical Center newborn deliveries

2006: 429

2007: 431

2008: 430

2009: 402

2010: 321

2011: 316

Source: YVMC

Steamboat School District estimated 2012-13 enrollment

Soda Creek Elementary School: 542

Strawberry Park Elementary School: 525

Steamboat Springs Middle School: 517

Steamboat Springs High School: 644

North Routt Community Charter School: 69

Yampa Valley High School: 24

Total: 2,321

— Steamboat Springs School District officials are predicting the eight-year stretch of enrollment growth soon will come to an end.

And they said the milestone could arrive just in time.

With classrooms in Steamboat reaching capacity and extra space hard to create, administrators said Wednesday that the district is nearing optimal enrollment and couldn't easily support a drastic influx of students.

“The trends are leading us to believe we'll have a couple more years of growth, then enrollment will level off and perhaps start to decline a little bit,” Finance Director Dale Mellor said Wednesday. “But it's kind of like looking into a crystal ball.”

Mellor said the prediction is based on previous demographic studies of the district, declining birth rates in Routt County throughout the past five years and the tracking of large “bubble” classes moving through the campuses.

Birth rate data compiled by Yampa Valley Medical Center shows the 2011 birth rate was 26 percent lower than it was in 2006. A breakdown of where the babies' parents are coming to the hospital from wasn't available Thursday, but hospital spokeswoman Rosie Kern said a majority of the hospital's babies are born to parents in Steamboat, followed by parents from Craig and Oak Creek.

Steamboat administrators said the birth rates are just part of the enrollment equation.

Defying the economy

Curriculum Director Marty Lamansky and Mellor attributed Steamboat's recent growth to a variety of factors, including the district's high academic ratings, location-neutral workers moving to town and a large contingent of families in the Hayden and South Routt school districts utilizing Steamboat's open-enrollment program.

Students shifting from private school to public school during the economic recession also contributed to the growth.

Since the 2004-05 school year, the district has added nearly 500 students. It is expecting to report an enrollment of more than 2,300 students this school year.

Mellor said that the growth has been relatively small each year and that incoming students are spread across the district.

But the growth has been a surprise in recent years as the economy has soured.

“I just made an assumption a few years ago, the families would go with the economy. That didn't happen,” Mellor said.

Adapting to growth

After nearly a decade of growth, administrators in the district have had to react to educating more students.

But Mellor, Lamansky and Facilities Director Pascal Ginesta said the steady enrollment gains haven't produced any major impacts or the need to start pursuing an additional school.

They said the district also has been able to keep most of its class sizes at the ratio approved by the Steamboat Springs School Board.

“We're very close (to capacity) in terms of the number of students we can have in a class,” Ginesta said. “Some may be a little bit over. But it is what it is, and we're relying on the belief that it's not going to get too out of hand.”

To accommodate the “bubble” classes and influxes of students into certain grades, the district has added additional courses and teachers.

The added expenses are offset by gains in state funding from the increased enrollment.

And for the first time, a small number of parents living in Soda Creek Elementary School's attendance boundaries who didn't enroll their child before a certain deadline were directed to send their kids to Strawberry Park instead because the newer campus was full.

“It's a good problem to have,” Lamansky said about the growth. “In the world of problems for education, this one is a good one to have because it means a lot is being done correctly.”

He said the district's highest accreditation from the state helps to attract to the community parents who are looking for a high-quality education for their children.

“We're always striving to be the best school district we can be,” Lamansky said.

And as school buildings in Steamboat near their capacity, Ginesta said administrators are finding ways to accommodate all of the students.

At Strawberry Park, for example, students eat lunch in the campus's arcade and in half of the gymnasium while other students have a physical education class.

“And as far as the classrooms, we're making it work,” Ginesta said.

This school year marks the first time since the 2008-09 school year that all of Routt County's school districts are expecting to see enrollments increase.

The gains especially are welcome in Hayden and Soroco, where the districts have been losing students for the past four years.

The districts will report their final enrollment numbers to the state in early October.

Routt County school enrollment by district

South Routt enrollment totals were not available before the 2001-02 school year

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com

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