Summit School District again bests all-time enrollment total
The Summit School District again surpassed its previous record for enrollment, though for now growth gains have flattened from last year to the 2016-17 academic calendar.
This year’s increase of 51 students across nine schools, from a total enrollment of 3,506 to 3,557, represents about a 1.5-percent enlargement. That’s compared to the unanticipated 5-percent swing the area experienced last year with 164 students joining the district.
“We have been on a growth trend the last few years, steeper than the prior years,” Kara Drake, the district’s director of business services, said during a Board of Education meeting this past week. “Last year … was a huge amount and more than we had seen in several years past. So not as much growth as we saw last year.”
The district was anticipating about a 2-percent rise in enrollment last year to this, but missed that mark by 16 students after throwing all the new additions and departures into the equation. And although heightened attendance remains the theme in the local public system the past five years, the area’s six elementary schools experienced an overall reduction of 53 kids for the current school year.
The decline was expected because birth rates have been down across the county, which has produced smaller kindergarten classes the last few years. The largest number of students in the district resides in third grade, with 310, while no other single grade tops 285.
Everything in context, however. The graduating class of 2016 comprised of 178 seniors, while the current crop of kindergartners is 250, meaning the narrative of a swelling school population still holds true. The high school also beat the projection by 21 students and grew by 10 percent with its total increase of 83.
“We had a small graduating class,” said Drake. “So between that class of those kids who graduated and left our system as a whole district, and our kindergartners that came in, we had an increase of 72.”
These numbers are important, of course, not just for planning purposes and better understanding the parceling out of resources year-to-year, but because they have significant implications on the annual funding tendered by the state. Colorado’s Department of Education (CDE) still hasn’t quite finalized its budget for the academic year as it awaits these confirmed October registration totals from each of its 178 districts. Because of that, per-pupil funding could vary slightly based on enrollment across the state, as well as the property tax collected that makes up local shares.
At present, per-student funding is set at $7,705, which is up from the 2015-16 year when it was $7,594. That allocation doesn’t include the additional overrides that exist in Summit, providing additional monies for kindergarteners — because this class is not fully funded by the state due to the part-time nature of programming — and district transportation needs. If a revised CDE budget is necessary, it usually arrives between December and February.
In the meantime, Summit’s projected budget was organized around those other 16 students who ultimately didn’t show this year and the outcome is an approximately $155,000 shortfall. Compared to a total annual operating budget of approaching $26 million, that’s just about a ½ percent, but will have to be accounted for some way.
“It’s less than what we had planned,” Drake acknowledged to the school board. “Even though it’s less than we had projected, it’s nothing to be concerned about at this point. We may have some savings throughout the year in general fund spending that we can sort of absorb that shortfall if needed. Worst-case scenario, we would have to take that out of reserves, … we have healthy reserves so that’s not really a concern either.”
A further dive into the figures reveals that the Hispanic population sits at about 34 percent of the total district attendance, which is consistent for the last handful of years. That translates to about 25 percent of the overall student body being designated as English language learners, with about 4.5 percent of that group showing full bilingual proficiency.
Exactly a third of the district’s students are also enrolled in the free- or reduced-lunch program, which maintains the 35-percent range Summit has seen the last two years. Broken down, that’s 23.5 percent, or 837 kids, who qualify for free fare, and about 10 percent, 346 students, at the discounted rate.
In addition, the 136 students who attend from out-of-county make up 4 percent of the district. Of that number, the largest, 63, come from Park County, followed by Lake (32) and Grand (30). The belief is that most of those kids join their parents on the drive to work in Summit each morning, and so attend schools within the local boundary.
In total, around half of the district’s students attend one of the elementary schools, while about a quarter are at Summit High, and the rest — 21 percent — reside at the middle school. As a result of the bigger classes entering area schools the last handful of years than those who exit each year at commencement, the size of both the middle and high schools is only expected to persist in overall growth. With 12th graders presently at 214 versus the 178 last year, it’s a trend that’s expected to continue.
“It’s going to be a longer ceremony,” joked superintendent Kerry Buhler at last week’s Thursday meeting. “Wear your comfy shoes.”
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