New school district demographics report highly anticipated | SteamboatToday.com

New school district demographics report highly anticipated

Students congregate in the cafeteria of Soda Creek Elementary on the first day of school in 2013.

— Anticipation is building for a new Steamboat Springs School District demographics report, with stakeholders curious to see how new projections compare to a 2014 report.

The Community Committee for Education has arranged for Denver Public Schools planner Jim Looney to conduct a new report, which will be discussed at a CC4E meeting next week and during a public forum Nov. 10.

With the new report on the horizon, school board members Monday received an enrollment update from Superintendent Brad Meeks that led to a discussion about 2014 projections.

In December 2014, demographer Shannon Bingham predicted it was most probable for the district to have about 2,618 students for the 2016-17 school year.

Last week, an official enrollment count showed just 2,526 students, 92 less than projected.

But the 2014 report didn't account for the new public Mountain Village Montessori Charter School, which opened this September with about 103 students in kindergarten through fifth grades. Of those students, 50 in first through fifth grades were Steamboat Springs School District students last year, and another 28 are new kindergarteners, which district leaders believe are likely to have otherwise attended a district school.

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The board discussed Monday that with 78 students (50 known transfers and 28 kindergarteners), the district would have enrolled 2,604 students this year, which is close to the 2,618 projection from 2014.

"I think what we have is accuracy here," board member Roger Good said.

Good questioned what would happen if the new demographic report showed very little difference from the original report.

"I'm really curious with all the angst around demographics," Good said.

CC4E demographics task force member Mary Darcy disputed the idea that because 2016 district enrollment, with some number of Montessori students included, was close to a 2014 projection, that the longer-term projections from 2014 would hold true.

"They're talking about one year, but we're trying to project into the future," Darcy said.

She also believes it’s unlikely that all 28 Montessori kindergarteners would have attended district schools.

The chief concern with the 2014 report, expressed by Darcy and others, is that the methodology used for the report didn't take the area's birth rates into account and therefore isn't going to account for a drop in birth rates during the recession.

The 2014 report relied on a demographics method that used one year's class size to predict the size of the same grade for the following year. The report was conducted at a time when kindergarten classes had grown by 13 and 16 students, respectively, in the previous two years, leading to a prediction that kindergarten classes would keep getting larger.

"Because the last demographer used straight-line projections for kindergarten that did not take into consideration the falling birth rates during the recession, he kept projecting an automatic steady rise in the kindergarten class size every year,” Darcy said. “Then each of those classes was projected to grow every year, compounding the error.”

The district reported 166 kindergarten students last week, compared to 174 in 2013 and 190 in 2014. The 2014 demographics report predicted the district would have 207 kindergarten students in fall 2016, and that the kindergarten number would continue to increase each year after.

“Our demographics task force took a thorough look at the previous demographic report and enrollment numbers," Darcy said. "Of course, we expect overall growth in the district. The reason we requested a new demographic study was because there was a problem with the previous report’s elementary five-year projections."

To reach Teresa Ristow, call 970-871-4206, email tristow@SteamboatToday.com or follow her on Twitter @TeresaRistow