Enrollment rises at most area schools

Omak, Paschal Sherman see student decline

— Fall enrollment at area schools is higher than expected, with a couple districts bursting at the seams.

Part of the increase is because the state expanded its support for full-day kindergarten programs, meaning those students can be counted as full-time students instead of half-time ones, but higher-than-expected enroll-ment also accounts for higher numbers.

“Our elementary school is out of room and we are using portables,” Brewster School District Superintendent Eric Driessen said. The secondary level also relies on portable classroom buildings to accommodate all students.

Brewster’s enrollment is up about 20 students from last spring, and now sits at 925 full-time equivalent students.

“Our surprise is our kindergarten,” Driessen said of the 100 kindergarten students.

The district recently hired a fifth kindergarten teacher.

“Our first- and second-grades are also near 90 students each,” he said.

Next door, in Bridgeport, enrollment also continues to grow, Superintendent Scott Sattler said.

The budget was built based on 770 full-time equivalent students, but actual enrollment is 807 full-time equivalent students. That includes full-time kindergarten enrollment.

“The big surprise this year is the large kindergarten class of 80 students,” Sattler said. “We opened a fourth section of kindergarten and hired a teacher to support that program.”

High school enrollment also is up, to 215 students in the top four grades. That’s causing “some strain on class sizes,” he said.

Continuing east, Grand Coulee Dam School District’s enrollment is up by more than 40 students from projections, and the district added another section to its kindergarten and first-grade classes, Superintendent Dennis Carlson said.

The district previously had full-day kindergarten, but paid for half of it out of district funds and counted each student as a half-time student for state funding purposes. With the addition of state-funded full-day kindergarten, those youngsters now are counted as full-time students.

The district planned for 640 full-time equivalent students, but had 687 as of its Oct. 1 count.

“Fortunately, our increase of students – above the kindergarten and first-grade – is pretty uniformly spread throughout the rest of the grade levels,” Carlson said.

He attributes some of the increase to retirements from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operates Grand Coulee Dam, and younger workers with families coming in to fill the openings.

“Another seems to be that the Nespelem School is at capacity at some grade levels so students are being enrolled in our district at those grade levels,” he said.

Nespelem Superintendent John Adkins said the budget has been built on 130 full-time equivalent students for the past five years, but “once again, we’re over this number.”

The district, which serves students through eighth-grade, moved its fourth-grade teacher to a math/science specialist position for sixth- through eighth-grades, and hired a new fourth-grade teacher and a counselor.

In the Okanogan Valley, enrollment in the Okanogan School District also took a leap this fall, partly because the district now has full-time kindergarten and partly from a general increase in the number of students.

The September student count, as reported to the state, showed 1,078.5 full-time equivalent students. Of them, 76 were kindergarten students who previously would have been counted as 38 full-time equivalent students under the old kindergarten funding program.

Virginia Grainger Elementary School Principal Dean Radke said the state’s decision to fund full-time kindergarten and the district’s qualification for another first-grade teacher left him scrambling to fill those slots before the district’s Aug. 28 opener.

Several teachers’ assignments were shuffled around, and Lisa Baum was hired for the new first-grade position, Radke said.

A huge sixth-grade class – at 104 students, one of the largest ever for any grade in the district – led to creating a fourth section for that grade.

Omak resident Lance O’Dell was hired Sept. 25 to teach sixth-grade.

At 1,078.5 students, the district has the most full-time equivalent students since 1,084 were counted in September 2000, state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction figures show. That month, the district’s largest class was 105 second-graders.

Middle School Principal Brett Baum said the district had to turn away some out-of-district students who had applied for enrollment because classes were full.

Oroville’s enrollment is both up and down, Superintendent Steve Quick said.

The district counted 579.84 full-time equivalent students in June, but had an average of 609.86 for the 2012-13 school year, well over its 599-student budget figure.

“It’s always better to end up with a few students more than is budgeted,” Quick said.

This year, the district planned for a slightly reduced enrollment, based mostly on students moving out of the area.

“We started the year off essentially where we left off, as our September enrollment was at 583.48,” he said. By October, it was down by a little more than three students, putting the district at 580.38 full-time equivalent students.

“We were hoping we’d go up a couple students in October, but this didn’t happen. Because enrollment typically goes down throughout the year, it’s going to be close to come in at our budget number of 568.0, especially with a 10 month average the state now uses,” Quick said. “In the past we’ve seen enrollment increase mid-year as well, so nobody is panicking at this point, but we are concerned and watching our enrollment numbers carefully.”

The Methow Valley School District also has more students this fall, Superintendent Tom Venable said.

“We exceeded our projected enrollment by approximately 40 students across grades K-12, bringing our total enrollment up to 603 students,” he said.

The district added one teacher as a result of increased enrollment.

While most Okanogan County districts have seen an increase in enrollment, both Omak and Paschal Sherman Indian School experienced decreased enrollment at the start of this school year.

Despite adding full-day kindergarten and nearly 60 full-time equivalent students at North Omak Elementary, enrollment in the Omak district is down about 23 students from projected numbers.

Following the trends of previous years, projected enrollment by the end of the year is now expected to be down about 50 students from numbers anticipated prior to the school year, Fiscal Administrator Scott Haeberle told the School Board at its Sept. 24 meeting.

That projection would represent a revenue shortfall of about $265,000, Haeberle said.

The full-day kindergarten features 145 students, which pushed North Omak’s enrollment to nine students more than projected.

East Omak Elementary School, the middle school and the alternative high school all saw lower-than-projected enrollment numbers in September. The high school, with an increase of five students from the projected number, still saw a drop-off of eight students from last year.

While the brick and mortar sector of the school has lost students from its projected numbers, enrollment in Omak’s online education program, Washington Virtual Academy, has jumped significantly.

The 3,168 full-time equivalent students in September translate to a projection of about 5,125 actual students. That would be an increase of 1,555 students over the projection before the school year started.

Despite the projection, Haeberle said that number is expected to flatten out by the end of the year.

At Paschal Sherman Indian School, east of Omak on the Colville Indian Reservation, enrollment is down by a few students, paraprofessional Michele Matt said.

“Throughout all the grades we have a variety of new students in all classrooms,” she said.

In Ferry County, Republic, Curlew and Keller districts all report enrollment increases.

The Chronicle requested enrollment information from all districts in Okanogan and Ferry counties. Not all responded by deadline time.

(Chronicle Managing Editor Garrett Rudolph contributed to this story.)

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