PORT TOWNSEND — Most North Olympic Peninsula school districts are recording declines in student enrollment early on this school year as educators and administrators manage the fallout of a virus that stands to impact how K-12 education is delivered for years to come.
Seeking to bridge a funding gap tied to lower enrollment, some area districts may be forced to cut staffing levels and introduce furloughs for employees.
This will be a school-year long consideration for each district.
Here’s where Jefferson County school districts stand after a month of instruction.
Enrollment has dipped by 113 to 1,085 full-time-equivalent students in the Port Townsend School District, with Salish Coast Elementary seeing 100 fewer students than budgeted, according to district communications director Sarah Rubenstein.
A number of those students are still in the district, learning through OCEAN, Port Townsend’s alternate learning experience, which provides flexibility for families, Rubenstein said.
If enrollment continues at the same level this school year, Port Townsend will be $708,000 below its budgeted state allocation, a number that depends upon enrollment.
“With the addition of special education projections, we currently are projecting a total of $1 million below budgeted allocation. These budget assumptions are all based on enrollment staying the same for the remainder of the school year,” Rubenstein said.
Rubenstein said she couldn’t speculate on the district’s future direction.
“The school board has since last spring looked at different budget scenarios,” she said. “I don’t know that I have a specific answer on that [implementing furloughs or reducing staffing levels] right now. … Making decisions about anything other than staffing doesn’t make much sense because payroll is by far the biggest budgetary implication for any district.”
Chimacum School District has seen full-time enrollment decline from an average of 778 students in K-12 in 2019-20 to 684 during the first count of district students in September, according to financial director Art Clarke.
That leaves the district facing a $1,145,000 net decline in expected funding.
“We had two certified [teaching] positions that were left unfilled, and our plan was to see what October enrollment is to see the direction we need to take,” Clarke said. “Our hope is to grow enrollment and bring students back. We started in September with a.m. and p.m. kindergarten, and beginning [Monday] we are going to full-day kindergarten.
“We are in school with our hybrid model, busing students, serving food.
“Those decisions haven’t been made [regarding reductions in force or furloughs]. [Interim Superintendent] David Engle, we are going to look at things over time.”
Quilcene chose a fiscally prudent approach in creating its 2020-21 school budget, anticipating more students would leave the district for homeschool, virtual options or Running Start through area community colleges, said Quilcene Superintendent Frank Redmon.
“We were expecting a fall off of about 10 percent,” Redmon said.
“We have two programs, our K-12 brick-and-mortar and PEARL, our homeschool parent partnership. In our K-12 program, we averaged 225 students last year and we budgeted for a 10-percent decrease, or 195 students in our brick-and-mortar program this year.
“And we are looking at being really close to 200 students so far. A slight fall-off from last year’s numbers, but we are pretty consistent.”
Class sizes can vary every year in a small district such as Quilcene.
“Kindergarten is a bit smaller than we had anticipated and we are seeing more going to Running Start, a trend I think we are seeing everywhere,” Redmon said.
And Redmon doesn’t envision budget difficulties moving forward.
“Provided we stay consistent in our enrollment, no,” Redmon said.
“We’ve made some changes with our classified staff as we are in the hybrid model, and there are some really specific hours of staffing such as hours for crossing guards we don’t need when we are on a virtual day, but in terms of wholesale personnel changes, we don’t anticipate having to reduce employment.”
Enrollment is holding steady for the K-8 Brinnon School District, according to Superintendent Patricia Beathard.
With preschoolers factored in, the small district is looking at between 75 and 85 students, a rise from 41 six years ago when Beathard became superintendent.
“We are about level with previous years,” Beathard said. “We had a few kids move away, a few move in and a few choice transfers. And an attraction there may have been that we are in school four days a week.
“We are in pretty good shape. The only changes are that we are in school four days a week, and we have looked at our existing staff to see what roles they can fill on that [virtual] Wednesday. We’ve really been looking closely to make sure our classified and hourly staff don’t lose hours.
“We’ve been able to keep our staff employed doing the same meaningful work they were doing before COVID hit us.”
Beathard pointed to a weekly food box delivery to families with children from birth to 18 that keeps bus drivers on the road.
“We do expect some hits going forward because we are going to lose money on our transportation formula,” Beathard said. “We’ve encouraged parents to drive children to school, and we are not driving buses on Wednesdays.”
Sports reporter Michael Carman can be contacted at 360-417-3525 or [email protected].