Chimacum enrollment declines

Kirk Boxleitner kboxleitner@ptleader.com
Posted 7/11/18

Student enrollment at Chimacum School District suffered another sharp drop, this time of 11.9 percent, according to recent reports made to the school board.

However, superintendent Rick Thompson …

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Chimacum enrollment declines

Posted

Student enrollment at Chimacum School District suffered another sharp drop, this time of 11.9 percent, according to recent reports made to the school board.

However, superintendent Rick Thompson noted that the change is in keeping with the overall trends of the past two decades.

Moreover, even with the decline in student numbers, Thompson touted the upcoming replacement levy, which is slated for the ballot Aug. 7, as essential for maintaining schools for students who are still enrolled in the district.

 

'NOT A SINGLE CAUSE' FOR ENROLLMENT DECLINE

According to full-time equivalent data reviewed at a June 13 school board meeting, student enrollment at Chimacum School District dropped 11.9 percent during the past year, from 998 students in June of 2017 to 879 FTE students in June of 2018.

“Student enrollment has been going down for the past 20 years,” Thompson said. “Still, we were surprised by the acceleration this year. Kindergarten especially was well below what we thought it would be.”

In terms of overall trends, Thompson identified culprits familiar to many Jefferson County residents by now, pointing out that the population is aging and the local birth rate is low.

Indeed, the school district commissioned a study on enrollment trends and projections from William Kendrick and Educational Data Solutions which was released in March and drew the conclusion that Chimacum's trend of declining enrollment “mirrored” the declining K-12 population of the county overall.

More specifically, the study showed the percentage of the population that is school-aged in Chimacum School District has declined during the past seven years at twice the county's overall rate of decline.

Still, when Thompson received initial indicators two months ago that the next enrollment drop might be steeper than forecast, he reached out to former Chimacum families to solicit their input on why they left.

“For a lot of them, it came down to housing options, or the availability of daycare or other childcare,” Thompson said. “For some of them, that means Port Townsend, but for a number of others, their lives are more oriented toward north Kitsap County. There's also the increasing availability of online schooling, and the increased popularity of homeschooling. Families have many more alternatives to traditional schooling in general. There's not a single cause.”

Of all of the county's school districts, only Quilcene has seen K-12 enrollment rise, even as the overall K-12 population in the county has declined.

“Because our budgets are based on enrollment, this does cause us to have conversations about reductions in staff,” Thompson said. “But we want to be careful about that, because we don't want to perpetuate the problem by reducing our staff to the point that families have to go to competing programs for what they want.”

When it comes to this saummer’s replacement levy, however, Thompson emphasized that the money would be spent on facilities.

“This levy is not a bond,” Thompson said. “The district will use these dollars to continue making facility improvements, focusing on safety and maintaining the best spaces the district owns.”

The Seattle-based MENG Analysis company conducted a facility condition assessment of the district's capital needs. Thompson added a full analysis of all of the district's properties was completed last year.

“We identified $50 million in total needs over the course of the next 20 years, but this will collect $7.95 million over six years,” Thompson said. “Because of declining enrollment, we won't need as much square footage, so we're shrinking our footprint, and it would be foolish to renovate the spaces that aren't our best.”

Thompson agreed the district has no need for new buildings but asserted it does need to maintain the facilities its families have already invested in, addressing everything from roofing and flooring to electrical systems, fire alarms and up-to-date technology.

“Heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems aren't glamorous, but they are expensive,” Thompson said.

Perhaps even more importantly, Thompson pointed out that upgrades in technology are necessary simply to keep pace with modern education.

“All of the state's testing is done online now,” Thompson said. “Just overhauling our network infrastructure has been a huge change.”

While the Washington Supreme Court's McCleary decision in 2012 ordered the state legislature to meet its duty, as outlined in the Washington State Constitution, “to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders,” Thompson noted facilities support expenses do not fall under that ruling’s purview.

“When it comes to parking lots, roofing, electrical systems or vents, we local districts are on our own,” Thompson said.

Thompson explained the levy requires a simple majority of Chimacum School District voters for passage, consisting of 50 percent plus one vote, and encouraged those voters to look for their ballots by July 18, with military overseas ballots set to be mailed July 22.

August primary voting begins July 20, and the last day for in-person registration is July 30, with ballots due by Aug. 7.

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