Our view: New report signals progress | SteamboatToday.com

Our view: New report signals progress

At issue:

A newly commissioned demographer’s report that forecasts Steamboat School District’s future enrollment was released last week.

Our view:

Release of new data should give CC4E the information it needs to move ahead with recommendations on district facility needs.

A new demographer’s report, which could be used to help chart the future of Steamboat Springs School District building projects, was the subject of a community forum last week hosted by the Community Committee for Education, which commissioned the new data.

At issue:

A newly commissioned demographer’s report that forecasts Steamboat School District’s future enrollment was released last week.

The information in the report differed from growth projections in a 2014 demographer’s report prepared by Western Demographics and used by the district to plan for the 2015 bond issue, which was defeated by voters last November.

Now that CC4E has a new report in its hands, it’s our hope the release of updated demographic information will allow the group to move forward with its task of providing the school board with recommendations about the district’s future facility needs. The old demographer’s report became a point of contention during the 2015 bond issue campaign, and those same issues seemed to be slowing CC4E’s ability to assess the district’s building needs.

We editorialized in support of the new report back in August, and we encouraged CC4E and the school district to invite the demographer to present his findings in person so that any questions about the new report could be answered publicly. This public presentation occurred Thursday, with independent demographics consultant Jim Looney explaining his report and its methodology, then answering questions from the audience.

Looney, a planner for Denver Public Schools, said he came up with his enrollment forecast by studying historical and current school enrollment numbers, then factoring in the region’s birth rate — a method for enrollment prediction that was not used in the earlier report.

His report predicts more modest enrollment growth than the 2014 report, and he based his estimates on fewer births during the recession and the opening of the new Mountain Village Montessori Charter School, which has an enrollment of just over 100 kindergarten through fifth-grade students — students who otherwise would have most likely enrolled in the Steamboat School District.

According to his report, Looney anticipates a total enrollment of 2,618 in fall 2021, an increase of 92 students over this year’s 2,526 students. The 2014 report predicted enrollment would reach 2,840 students by 2019. Looney’s report also forecasts increasing enrollment at the middle school and high school and decreasing enrollment at the elementary schools through the next five years.

Looney was completely transparent in explaining the methodology behind his enrollment predictions. He reminded CC4E and others in the audience that variables can change, and enrollment numbers might need to be altered slightly in the years to come.

Looney also advised the committee and the district that new demographic studies are not needed every year. Instead, the data could be tweaked periodically to incorporate new information using the methodology detailed in the report.

We believe the expense of the new report was money well spent, because it puts to rest questions surrounding the original report. We now encourage CC4E members to accept the predictions, trust the methodology and use the new information to assess and finalize facilities recommendations for presentation to the school board by mid-December.

The new report should also help allay concerns about enrollment projections the voting public had during the 2015 bond issue campaign. The recent kindergarten mill levy issue passed by a narrow margin, which shows us that voters are watching the district closely and are hesitant to increase taxes without assurance the issue before them is supported by solid data, their questions are answered and the spending is absolutely necessary to improve the education of local students.

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