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School district likes the numbers

Lake Oswego School District administrators are breathing a sigh of relief.

For the second year in a row, enrollment numbers are looking steady. The district was only down five students from last year's first-day-of-school count, and a second count on Monday added another 13, bringing the total to 6,756.

It seemed definite a few months ago that enrollment would be down even further following a trend of declining numbers over the last 10 years.

Superintendent Bill Korach thinks the numbers are holding steady as a result of more marketing of the district to both local students in home school or private schools and students who are out of district. To some degree he may be right.

Tuition students are up this year again. The district has 54 students who pay $6,500 per year to attend school in Lake Oswego - up from 33 the year before.

The district has not conducted a formal survey of tuition students to find out their reasons for transferring. However, most transfers are coming from neighboring districts such as Portland, with 20 transfers, Riverdale, with 18, and Tigard-Tualatin with six.

One or two students are enrolled from each of the following: Vancouver, Molalla, Oregon City, Newberg, Gladstone, Beaverton, Canby and West Linn.

Additionally, the district is offering four full-day kindergartens - one more than it offered last year. Though the number of students isn't up, it appears that the district is convincing more parents to pay for a full-day class. This year the district added a section at Westridge Elementary, so there are now two full-days on each side of the lake. As a result half-days went from 16 to only 14 sections total. Parents in district who send their children to full-day kindergarten pay $3,250 per year.

'Given where we had projected we could be - even though we are going to be down in enrollment to some extent - this is tremendous,' said Korach. 'The numbers I'm proudest of are elementary numbers where we knew we were going to take a big hit.'

Two weeks ago, Korach was anticipating a drop in elementary numbers after the district graduated a large sixth grade class.

It's not as if the district is seeing the growth it saw in the 90s - when the district was growing three or four percent each year - the elementary level is still slightly down with 34 less than last year. The projected loss was more like 100.

It seems that the Configuration Committee, formed in 2006 to study the need to consolidate neighborhood schools, won't be making a recommendation any time soon.

'We always plan for the worst case and then start working to make sure that doesn't happen,' said Korach.

Jonnie Shobaki, director of elementary programs, said that a change won't need to happen at least through 2015. She anticipates that development in the River Grove area will spur some enrollment growth to the south side of Oswego Lake.

The phenomenon seems to be that enrollment at the elementary level is declining faster than the high school.

For starters, the number of kids in a class usually starts small, said Korach. Take this year's kindergarten, which has 350. Parents often choose Montessori or another private school option for kindergarten, said Korach.

Additionally, 'It just takes families a while to establish the kind of economic wherewithal that it takes to come here. The cost of housing makes it somewhat difficult for families with small children to move to Lake Oswego in the same numbers that they had in the past,' Korach explained. 'If the trend continues, eventually those numbers will hit the high school, if we don't do something about it.'

With the exception of last year's .3 percent increase, the district has seen an average of about a 1 percent decrease in each of the last seven years.

'It hasn't been a dramatic drop. It's been a slow gradual phenomenon, but over time that adds up,' said Korach. 'That's what started us to begin our extensive marketing efforts to look at bringing students to LO that don't reside here. We're trying to be a good alternative, a reasonably priced alternative to private school. It's going to cost you significantly less than the private schools.'

And with this year's results, it seems like it might be working, Korach told the school board at a Sept. 3, meeting. 'We're getting people to buy into being in Lake Oswego and stay in Lake Oswego, and we're getting transfer students.'