When the economy fails, nothing is safe. Not even classrooms.
Sequim school leaders are seeing enrollment drop at an alarming rate, and projections seven and eight years ahead look even gloomier.
Disturbingly for school leaders is that the biggest enrollment drops seem to be coming from the earliest grades.
Sequim schools superintendent Bill Bentley surmises a weak dollar and unemployment may have something to do with it.
"The No. 1 thing that impacts enrollment in rural school districts - and we are a rural district - is the economy," Bentley said.
"When the economy is struggling, people
go to places where there are jobs."
Bentley said Sequim school administrators are projecting an 80-student drop from the start of the 2009-2010 school year and another 80-student drop by next fall - a total of 160 students in two academic years.
Many of those students leaving the district are young students from young families.
"There is no way of knowing how many families will leave our school district," Bentley said.
"It's very possible we'll see a migration out."
Sequim has about 160 students in kindergarten classes and about 190 in first grade - two of the smallest classes in the system. Sequim's enrollment "balloons" to about 250 in seventh grade while this year's senior class is about 220 students.
No cuts - this year
Bentley said the district won't have to cut staff at Sequim's two elementary schools this year, thanks to a number of timely retirements and one-year contracts, but that could change at Helen Haller and Greywolf elementary schools in the 2011-2012 school year if enrollment projections come through as expected.
"We're not going to know (our enrollment reality) until the first day of school next year," Bentley said.
The impact that has on a school district is what's often referred to as a "domino effect." Sequim's elementary school staffing levels likely will drop in coming years, followed by reductions at the middle school and high school.
Schools get their state funding primarily based on their student population. Those funds and local levy dollars help pay for teacher salaries, books, supplies and other classroom costs.
Bentley said the district will cut staffing as enrollment drops but not programs.
Reach Michael Dashiell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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