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School district demography report under review

Teresa Ristow
Strawberry Park Elementary students wave from a school bus in 2013.
school_bus_file

— A 2014 demographics report, commissioned by the Steamboat Springs School District, is under review by both district leaders and the Community Committee for Education, or CC4E, as the latter group works to make recommendations for the district’s future.

School district leaders in June reached out to the Colorado demography office to review the methodology used in the report, which was updated and relied upon as the district pursued a bond measure to fund additional facility space last year.

The state office initially found the methodology of the report by Western Demographics to be sound, but a representative later noted the positive assessment was based on the assumption that the “cohort survival method” described in the report was used to predict kindergarten enrollment. The state office did not audit the results of the report.

District leaders recently learned that another method, “straight line projection,” was used to forecast future kindergarten enrollment, something members of a demographics task force working under CC4E had speculated.

The main difference between the two methods is that the cohort method takes into account the local birthrate, while the straight line method relies on the size of a previous year’s kindergarten class.

Cohort survival method was used for grades 1 through 12 in the report, according to Steamboat Springs School District Superintendent Brad Meeks.

The demographics task force told members of CC4E last week it is interested in hiring a Denver Public Schools demographer to revisit some of the district’s demographic data.

“We think that getting another demographic report is a necessity,” said task force and CC4E member Mary Darcy. “For a project this important, we cannot move ahead without getting another report.”

Denver Public Schools demographer Jim Looney said that, to revisit enrollment forecasts for all grades and offer insight into how housing availability might affect enrollment, he would charge about $3,100 for approximately 48 hours of work.

Meeks said Sunday that, though a straight-line projection was used to forecast kindergarten enrollment in the 2014 report, that fact didn’t lesson his confidence in the strength of the report.

Meeks said using birthrate alone to predict future kindergarten enrollment is troublesome, as birthrates could be studied in numerous ways, including births in the county, births at a particular hospital or all births to women who list a certain zip code.

He added that a spike in the birthrate several years ago was attributed to a time when the Craig area had recently lost an OB-GYN and didn’t necessarily represent a large future kindergarten class for Steamboat. Using birthrate to forecast kindergarten class size also doesn’t take into account location-neutral business owners and other residents who move to Steamboat after their children are born, he said.

Meeks said if members of CC4E would like to hire Looney to boost their comfort level with the demographics, he felt that $3,100 is probably a small price to pay to move forward with a future bond measure that could be tens of millions of dollars.

“If we need to spend a little money to improve people’s comfort level, then let’s do it and move on,” Meeks said.

CC4E will vote Aug. 9 on whether to move forward with hiring Looney.

Darcy said that, while CC4E might ask the Board of Education to approve the cost of the new report, the group would also discuss fundraising to cover the cost during the Aug. 9 meeting.

To reach Teresa Ristow, call 970-871-4206, email tristow@SteamboatToday.com or follow her on Twitter @TeresaRistow


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