Steamboat school district enrollment rebounds, just shy of anticipated pupil count
After seeing a steep decline last year, enrollment within the Steamboat Springs School District rebounded this fall, though it still fell slightly below what the district budgeted for in June.
Including students at North Routt Community Charter School, there are 2,595 students in the district, an increase of 67 students over last year. This falls just five students below the 2,600 students budgeted for.
“We seem to be past the years of 2.5% student growth,” said District Finance Director Mark Rydberg at Monday’s school board meeting. “That will be something that we are watching in the future.”
Colorado measures enrollment by taking a snapshot of students in the district Oct. 1 of each year. This year’s numbers are not yet finalized, though any changes are expected to be minimal.
Enrollment is key because districts receive funding from the state on a per pupil basis, but Rydberg said numbers coming in five students short of the budget is not an immediate concern.
“It’s really not that big of a deal,” Rydberg said in an interview Tuesday. “If we maintain right around this 2,600 or 2,595, that is basically stable funding.”
Per pupil funding won’t be finalized until early next year, but Rydberg anticipates it to be around $8,875 per student.
The state allows districts to calculate averages, including enrollments up to five years back. Rydberg said this is to cushion any declining enrollments in districts without limiting funds to districts that are seeing increased enrollments.
Because of last year’s decline, the district’s five-year average was about 2,599 students, which led Rydberg to set the budget at 2,600 students. Since the district is five students short of that, the average dropped by about one and a half students, amounting to about $12,000 less for the district, Rydberg said.
COVID-19 has been blamed for last year’s decline, as parents opted for home schooling, online classes and other alternatives, and the pandemic is still likely part of why enrollment hasn’t fully rebounded.
“We also saw quite a few students right at the beginning of the school year — right before or right after — withdraw. Some of the effect of the pandemic is still effecting our enrollment,” said Steamboat Superintendent Brad Meeks. “I think next fall might be a better indicator. Hopefully, the pandemic is subsiding by then so we might see more rebound students coming back.”
There were about 40 students that left the district around the start of the school year, Meeks said, but there were also students that joined the district over the same time period.
Meeks said he believes parents have different reasons for pulling their children from the district, some because they were unhappy with the district’s facial mask policy and others that were not ready to send their child back to school full-time in person.
School board member Lara Craig suggested the district should reach out to these parents to understand why they pulled their students out of the district.
“I wonder how much of it is cost of living and child care — the general, it’s getting hard to live here,” said Board Vice President Katy Lee. “Knowing that might be helpful for future predicting.”
Rydberg also suggested the local housing crisis could be leading to the district’s stagnant growth in recent years. When looking at enrollment numbers by grade, the district typically has more older students than younger.
“What we have noticed in those years where we had high growth, we actually saw a lot of mid-elementary to middle school growth,” Rydberg said. “People move here when they already have kids — when they’re already established.”
With hope for a long-term housing solution identified — the Yampa Valley Housing Authority’s Brown Ranch property west of Steamboat — Rydberg said he anticipates enrollments will start increasing again in the coming years.
“I think we will inevitably start to grow again, but that is probably a few years out,” Rydberg said. “It is a supply and demand problem right now, so as the supply increases, we think things will rebound.”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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