Enrollment drop a concern as Roaring Fork district plans budget

John Stroud
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” While the Colorado Department of Education is predicting a sizable jump in student enrollment for the Roaring Fork School District Re-1 next school year, the district itself is basing its 2009-10 budget on no growth.

For the state’s purposes, a projected increase of 393 students in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt schools is intended as a “conservative” number to ensure it doesn’t underestimate its funding obligation, Re-1 Assistant Superintendent of Business Shannon Pelland explained.

“If we don’t grow as much as they project, they don’t have to come up with the money,” she said at the Wednesday school board meeting. “We haven’t had that much growth in a single year since I’ve been here.”

For the district, the conservative estimate for budgeting purposes is for no growth, although that might be pushing it. One of the concerns is if the district actually loses students from this school year to next, which is a distinct possibility.

Already, since January, the district has dropped about 60 students from its Oct. 1, 2008, enrollment count, Pelland said.

Part of that is natural attrition, but some may be due to families relocating as a result of the economic downturn, she said.

“We’re still trying to get a handle on that,” Pelland said, adding that teachers and school administrators have been informally polling students on whether they expect to be here come fall.

For now, though, little will change in the way the district approaches the coming year’s budget, which will be adopted next month.

The district will continue to budget for a staffing level of 17.3 students per staff member (including classroom teachers, specialist teachers, counselors and media specialists).

“That’s consistent with where we’ve been for the last 12 years,” she said. “We give flexibility to each of the buildings to determine how to divide that up.”

Re-1 has also been informed it will see a per pupil funding increase from the state of 5 percent, Pelland said. However, the state is requiring that approximately 2 percent be held in reserve.

“It won’t be determined until January (2010) whether we will even get that,” she said. “I think it’s highly questionable whether we will actually see that 2 percent.”

The remaining 3 percent increase could also only be a one-time increase, because it is based on federal stimulus money directed at K-12 education that may not be there the following year.

Some school board members wondered out loud if the district should start considering some of the “hard decisions” that could have to be made if state funding and enrollment decline significantly.

“If things continue to go down at the state and federal level, we are going to have to make some tough decisions,” Pelland acknowledged. “And it will be hard to keep those cuts out of the classroom.”


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