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Enrollment drops at local schools

School district officials say funding decrease not a concern

Preliminary numbers released by the Oregon Trail School District on Tuesday reveal that enrollment is down by over 100 students district-wide - a drop off of approximately 2.5 percent - from last fall. Last week, 4,215 students enrolled in district schools, while in the fall of 2005, 4,318 students enrolled.

Belanger said it didn't appear that the strike had much affect on the enrollment numbers, despite the district's fears about that last year.

Instead, what affected the numbers the most was the fact that the district had one of the smallest kindergarten classes in recent history.

'We have a very small kindergarten class across all the schools,' Belanger said. Last year the district had 312 students in that class. This year, only 242.

He said the 'surprising' numbers of the youngest group of Oregon Trail students represents a larger demographic issue in the district.

'It's an aging district,' he said. 'The incoming kindergarten classes have been smaller than the senior classes graduating the past three or four years. Everyone's classes are smaller.'

But with all the booming housing development in the Sandy area, Belanger said that the district will grow, however modestly.

'It hasn't really hit us yet, but I think within the next few years, we're going to have a big bubble,' said district communications director Julia Monteith. 'Enrollment has been pretty static, but with all the building going on we've got volunteers right now going to all the developments and counting homes.'

Enrollment is important to the district because that is what determines how much money the district receives from the state of Oregon.

Every year, the state funds school districts based on either the number of students enrolled, or by how many students were enrolled the previous year - whichever is greater. 'That way, you're held harmless for a year if your enrollment drops,' said Belanger.

He said that although the initial numbers show that 106 fewer students enrolled at the beginning of 2006-07 than last year, he predicts that the district will only be down about 40 to 50 children by the end of the year.

Based on the state's school funding formula that would mean Oregon Trail schools would sustain a loss in revenue from the state. But district officials aren't worried.

This summer, state lawmakers voted to divert millions of dollars in lottery surplus directly to school districts. Oregon Trail will receive $309,277 - an amount Belanger said wasn't included in the 2006-07 budget.

'We weren't banking on these dollars,' Belanger said in a previous interview. 'For us it's a real bonus.'

He said that he believes the one-time lottery payment would easily supplement any funding decrease that would come as a result of lower enrollment numbers.

'We anticipate we'll still be okay, because at the end of the last fiscal year, the state approved supplemental funding,' said OTSD business manager Tim Belanger. 'We had already put our initial budget out, and we did not include that additional lottery resource. The one variable was enrollment, but I wouldn't anticipate our enrollment drop would surpass that.'

Overall, enrollment numbers have remained steady for the district over the past six school years, from a low of 4,119 students in the fall of 2000, to the high in the fall of 2005. The average number of students enrolling in the district over that time period was 4,202.

ENROLLMENT HISTORY

The following is a list of the district-wide enrollment figures from the past six years:

2006-07 (as of Sept. 7), start of the year: 4,215

2005-06, start: 4,318; end: 4,072

2004-05, start: 4,192; end: 4,056

2003-04, start: 4,219; end: 4,081

2002-03, start: 4,188; end: 4,073

2001-02, start: 4,176; end: 4,082