Area districts’ enrollment declining

  • By Kaitlin Manry and Eric Stevick Herald Writers
  • Sunday, October 19, 2008 10:16pm
  • Local NewsLocal news

Edmonds school leaders are considering closing two elementary schools. Teachers were laid off in Darrington, and Marysville schools may have to get by with fewer supplies and make mid-year cuts.

Declining enrollment is hurting budgets at schools throughout much of Snohomish County.

Enrollment in the north and south ends of the county dipped this fall, while it increased in Everett and some neighboring districts.

Fewer students means tough decisions for some districts.

School leaders around the county have different theories to explain the enrollment decline, including migration because of job cuts, or high gas and home prices pushing potential home buyers into city apartments.

They consider housing, birth rates, population trends and job losses when trying to understand enrollment trends.

Births in Snohomish County have generally been on the rise for the last 15 years, from 7,629 in 1995 to 9,070 in 2006, according to state Department of Health data.

Given all the demographic factors, it’s sometimes hard to know why some schools are losing students, Marysville Superintendent Larry Nyland said.

Marysville has about 130 fewer students than it expected when it drew up its budget. District leaders have determined that a $711,000 budget cut is required.

The school board is considering cutting back on building supplies, trimming programs and using money from the district’s general fund. The board is not considering layoffs, Nyland said.

He’s not sure why fewer students are attending Marysville schools or when the downward slide will end. Enrollment in Marysville has skipped around over the last decade. There was a decline in 2003 during a Boeing slowdown and a state-record 49-day teachers strike. Then came a two-year growth spurt. Now, another decline.

“I think a lot of it is the economy,” Nyland said. “With the housing crunch right now, not as many people can afford to buy the houses we have been building in Marysville. We’ve wondered if some of our enrollment (decline) is people who have had to pull back and look for apartments.”

Edmonds has experienced a steady decline in enrollment, which continued this fall. The school board cut special education programs and rerouted buses for this school year. With the enrollment decline expected to continue, the board is now considering closing two elementary schools next fall.

In the last two years, the district has seen enrollment drop by nearly 450 students.

Darrington lost 63 students this fall, slipping to 474 students.

School leaders grappled with tough budget decisions last spring, laying off about a half dozen of the town’s 38 teachers. Custodians, teaching assistants and an administrator also lost their jobs.

Darrington officials blame the enrollment decline on the downturn in the timber industry. Higher gas prices are making it expensive for some parents to commute from their homes in the Cascade foothills to bigger cities for work. Consequently, they are moving — and taking their kids with them.

Other north county school districts in Lakewood, Stanwood and Granite Falls lost students this fall, but had budgeted accordingly. Those districts expect enrollment to rebound eventually when the economy improves and families can buy new homes.

For now, however, the loss of students means trimming spending.

Stanwood will receive about $225,000 less from the state this year.

“We are receiving less in revenue from the state because of our declining enrollment while our state and federal mandates continue to increase,” said Cathy Britt, a Stanwood School District spokeswoman.

Everett schools have a welcome bump in enrollment this fall.

Enrollment in the Everett district grew by 272 students, which was 260 more than expected.

The district hired a few extra teachers because of an unexpected kindergarten enrollment boost, said Mary Waggoner, a school district spokeswoman.

“The school district is conservative in the development of enrollment projections given that overestimating can have such a seriously negative impact to a school district’s financial health,” said Bob Collard, the Everett district’s associate superintendent of finance.

Collard said that 84 percent of the district’s finances are spent on personnel.

In east county, Monroe and Sultan also had jumps in enrollment, but the increases don’t reflect the number of district students in the classroom. Monroe has an online school that allows students from inside and outside the district to enroll, and Sultan just launched a new parent-teacher partnership program that attracted students who had been home-schooled in the past.

If students in those programs and other off-site programs were to be factored out of their enrollment counts, both districts would have seen a decline in their student head counts.

Around 100 fewer students are attending traditional Monroe schools this year over last year, district spokeswoman Rosemary O’Neil said. Enrollment in traditional schools was down by around 30 students last year, she said.

“It makes you kind of concerned about what’s going to happen next year,” she said.

Reporter Kaitlin Manry: 425-339-3292 or kmanry@heraldnet.com.

School district enrollment

Numbers for October, except where noted

District20072008Change

Arlington5,4485,48133

Darrington53747463

Edmonds20,36220,27884

Everett18,57318,743170

Granite Falls2,3142,25361

Index3333no change

Lake Stevens7,5837,612*29

Lakewood2,5312,50922

Marysville11,81911,662157

Monroe7,1747,988814

Mukilteo14,20214,25755

Snohomish9,4259,43813

Stanwood5,3095,22386

Sultan2,1442,18137

*September enrollment numbers are listed for the Lake Stevens School District. Other districts show enrollment as of October.

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