An early start didn’t stall attendance for Blaine County schools, Superintendent GwenCarol Holmes told the district’s board of trustees last week.

Despite threats from some parents to boycott the Aug. 19 opening, nearly 97 percent of enrolled students showed up to kick off the year that Monday.

“Shocked me,” Holmes told the board on Tuesday, Sept. 10.

Still, total enrollment is down slightly—both year over year and compared to the estimate wrapped into the district’s 2019-20 budget.

On the first Friday of the year, 3,415 students were enrolled. That’s 24 fewer than the district expected, and 52 off 2018’s official count. Demographics are part of the drop, as children born during and immediately after the economic downturn replace larger outgoing cohorts. With the last class of pre-recessionary kids entering high school, middle schools showed the biggest dip in preliminary counts. Wood River Middle School opened to 103 fewer students than the 739 who started last year, 25 below expectations. The Hemingway STEAM School, which completes its middle school expansion this year, started 18 below early estimates.

“We did predict numbers would be down, but they’re down a little more than we thought,” Holmes said.

Barring an out-of-area in-flux, enrollment will continue to shrink in coming years as larger classes move out. Last 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.

In March, district Finance Manager Bryan Fletcher told the trustees that he expects a downward trend into the next decade, bottoming out at 3,272 students in 2025-26. Translation: The long shadow of the Great Recession still shrouds the School District, and tighten the state’s purse strings.

Idaho pays schools per student, based on enrollment counted on the first Friday of November. With fewer kids in classes, that pool of money—worth about a third of the general fund budget—will continue to shrink.

If there’s a bright spot, it’s that the district sees it coming. And, that it was pretty accurate in predicting which kids would go to which schools, which means less disruption and shifting teachers during the year.

“We’re feeling comfortable with what we have going on for staff and budget,” Holmes said. “Things are settling in nicely.”

Email the writer: mdee@mtexpress.com

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