South Kitsap School District officials believe enrollment could increase again

But ‘conservative’ forecast calls for decrease in student body

Michelle Reid is not quite ready to label it as a “trend.”

But the South Kitsap School District superintendent believes there will be an uptick in enrollment at district schools for a second consecutive year.

Despite that, Reid said district officials crafted the 2015-16 budget with an eye toward enrollment decline. That means they have budgeted for 9,180 FTE (full-time equivalent) students and 9,570 overall. SKSD retains Greene Gasaway Architects of Federal Way to project future attendance.

“We’re expecting an enrollment bump, but we’re planning for a smaller enrollment decline because we want to be very conservative in our financial planning,” Reid said. “We only have a one-year trend of enrollment increase — and that’s not really a trend. It’s a one-year data point. While we’re cautiously optimistic, we also have to be financially conservative in our planning.”

Enrollment trends have caused problems for SKSD in the past. During the 2010-11 school year, 9,516 FTE students enrolled, which was 134 fewer than projected. That contributed to the decrease in the district’s fund balance to about $4.9 million in 2012-13. District officials expect that fund to increase to $9.72 million during the upcoming school year.

Tracy Patterson, assistant superintendent for business and operations, said in March that the district receives about $5,700 per FTE in state funding.

There are provisions in SKSD’s contract with the South Kitsap Education Association to maintain class sizes at certain levels. Because of that, the district might need to hire more teachers if enrollment exceeds projections.

In September, the district experienced its first enrollment uptick in 16 years with 9,083.16 FTE. That was an increase of about 250 students from September 2013. SKSD sustained its student-body increase throughout the last school year.

“I think it’s been challenging to predict accurate enrollment patterns for our district,” Reid said. “I think we continue to work at being more accurate in our predictions. It’s hard to have a crystal ball. There’s really often quite a bit of variance between what the demographers think is going to happen and what actually does happen. It’s not an exact science.”

Reid attributes some of the enrollment growth during the previous school year to strategic changes within the district. According to research she has read, Reid said eighth-grade students who take algebra are “twice as likely” to attend college as those who do not. In an effort to encourage that, seventh-graders now can take algebra.

In addition to that, SKSD has increased the number of Advanced Placement courses offered. In September, South Kitsap High School added 13 Advanced Placement courses, while the district’s junior highs now offer Advanced Placement Human Geography and Environmental Science for freshmen.

Reid said the number of students enrolled in Advanced Placement courses in the district has increased to 1,055 this school year from 377 in 2013-14.

The district added a number of Advanced Placement courses offered at SKHS, a Spanish immersion program at Burley-Glenwood Elementary and expanded all-day kindergarten.

“We’ve got great things happening in our classrooms and schools that we believe parents and families are excited about,” Reid said.

Greene Gasaway Architects principal Jeff Greene told the Independent in July 2012 that he makes his projections through analyzing enrollment figures through the last six years, birth rates in the area and through data provided by the Office of Financial Management.

Based on that data, Reid said 500 more elementary-aged students are expected to enroll in the district during the next five years.

“That’s part of the reason and the driver for grade reconfiguration,” she said, referring to her proposal to switch from a junior-high to middle-school format, which would move all freshmen to South Kitsap High School by 2018-19. “We’re going to need to move the sixth grade out of the elementary to provide space.”