School District sees unexpected drop in student enrollment

Fewer students means less funding from state

After just eight weeks of classes, the RE1J school district already has 37 fewer students than it had at the start of the school year, and many of those have left the Crested Butte Community School.




The high number of transfers means the district will lose more than $270,000 in per-pupil reimbursement from the state, which could mean cuts in spending on programs and transportation, as well as some big-ticket items that district administrators were hoping for.
The district administration will meet late this week to discuss the exact areas where cuts can be made.
School districts are paid $7,200 by the state for each full-time first to 12th-grade pupil enrolled as of October 1. If students transfer to another school district before that date, the state’s per-pupil funding goes with them. Schools don’t receive any money for students who transfer in after October 1.
Last year, each school site made a guess at the enrollment for this year while building the district budget. Every school administrator estimated enrollment would go down, except for CBCS, which estimated a flat enrollment.
Those estimates are used in a formula to help the district administration align the income from the state’s reimbursement with expenditures for the school year. District business manager Stephanie Juneau says the state’s payment, which is made to the district monthly, accounts for more than 90 percent of the district’s operating budget.
Final enrollment doesn’t have to be submitted to the state until November 10, so the first reduced payment the district will see this year should come in December.
“We’re about 37 students down from where we budgeted,” Juneau told the school board at a regular meeting on Monday, October 5. “A lot has happened since the beginning of the school year. There were students taken from across the grade levels, but where we’re down most is in Crested Butte and the Gunnison Valley School.”
Crested Butte Community School was projected to have 534 students this year, but as of October 1 there were only 514 students enrolled. According to CBCS principal Stephanie Niemi, that kind of miscalculation “seriously hurts the budget.” The school did, however, gain four students over last year’s enrollment as of the count date.
“We generally have good growth, but this year we lost late in the game,” Niemi says. “We had several families leave in August without any warning and that hurts us.”
After some research, Niemi found that, district-wide, nearly 30 of the students were leaving the state and the remainder moved to other areas in Colorado.
“It was pretty clear that we weren’t necessarily losing students to areas with a lower standard of living, however that did happen,” Niemi says. “This year the answer to the question of ‘Why?’ is probably the economy. People are just following the jobs.”
The Gunnison Valley School is also down eight students from last year, which brings GVS enrollment to just 20.
Juneau speculated, “It could be the economics of it. But also, [Gunnison Valley School] has become a rigorous program and perhaps students and their parents are choosing other options.”
There were also a few students who transferred from school to school within the district, which doesn’t affect the district’s funding from the state. Niemi says she had six students transfer to Gunnison.
Niemi also knows of at least seven students who will be transferring into the school for the winter months. However, the state does not reimburse schools for students that enroll after October 1.
Over the last decade, Juneau points to several years where enrollment decreased, and it wasn’t until the 2006 school year that the school district started making bigger gains in enrollment.
“This is my first go-’round with this, but I was told that as a district, this is normal and we’ll deal with it.”

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