The Blaine County School District is projecting a dip in enrollment next year, as children born during the lean years during and immediately after the economic downturn replace larger outgoing classes.
Even modeling in an “optimistic” 1 percent growth increase, the district expects to be down 24 students across all schools next year, District Finance Manager Bryan Fletcher told the school board during its regular March meeting Tuesday.
“When you look at the numbers, unfortunately, they’re dropping. And I’ll say that the numbers we are [projecting] are fairly optimistic,” Fletcher said.
Fletcher projects 3,337 students to enroll for the 2019-20 school year, down from the 3,361 who attended district schools in February. That’s around the same number enrolled 10 years ago, when 3,321 students went to Blaine County public schools in the 2009-10 year, according to district budget documents.
The model becomes more and more speculative the further it projects, Fletcher said. It can’t account for new population trends or economic impacts, and he has to take a best guess at the birth rate for future classes. But he expects a downward trend into the next decade while smaller cohorts replace larger ones born before the recession, bottoming out at 3,272 students in 2025-26.
From there, he thinks numbers will increase—but many of those future students are just a twinkle in their parents’ eyes. The 2025 kindergarten class has yet to be conceived.
One thing, though, remains clear: A decade after the official end of the Great Recession, the School District is still feeling its effects.
“The pre-recessionary cohort kids, [born] when families were willing to take on additions, have been in our system,” Fletcher said. “Now, they’re moving into the high school.”
Soon, they’ll be out altogether, with lighter numbers to replace them.
This year’s kindergarten class was drawn from the smallest group born in Blaine County in recent memory—211 kids, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. In the decade prior, that figure routinely topped 300 babies.
The numbers are a mixed blessing for the district, likely meaning less money from the state, but less strain on the fixed amount of local funds. The Legislature has yet to finalize its funding formula for public schools, but Superintendent GwenCarol Holmes said she expects enrollment to be a major factor for how much schools receive.
“This is one of the major steps in our budget preparation,” Holmes said of the projections.
“The finances of a school district are different than a business,” said Trustee Kelly Green. “We can’t just bring in more kids. We’re beholden to what the state decides to give us. Unless we have more subdivisions coming, with more kids coming in, we won’t see more funding from that aspect.”
With several sources of local funding in place, that’s less significant here than in other districts.
This year, about a third of the district’s $57.8 million general fund budget comes from the state, some $19.5 million, according to district budget documents. Sixty-two percent—around $35.7 million—came from local property taxes or other local sources. (The remainder is carryover from the previous year.)
Based on Fletcher’s projections, the district probably won’t need to embark on any major capital projects.
Hemingway STEAM School, which will expand to include eighth grade next year and add an estimated 49 students, can accommodate the influx with a pair of district-owned mobile classrooms, Fletcher said. Wood River High School will be a bit more crowded, too, but the building “can accommodate” the capacity, he said.
“It doesn’t look like we’re going to need to build a new elementary or middle or high school in the near future,” he told the board. “The demand won’t be there.”