Wedel: School bond projects not supported by demographics
The school bond projects are not supported by the demographic projections. Steamboat school district K-5 enrollment peaked at 1165 students in 2015 and has declined by 95 to 1070 students for fall 2019.
K-5 enrollment has dropped because smaller kindergarten classes entering the schools as expected due to the decline in the number of births to parents living within the Steamboat Springs School District. Our modest baby boom from 2004 through 2011 annually averaging 156 births combined with people moving here resulted in kindergarten enrollment for 2010-2016 averaging 168 students. We now have an ongoing 8 year baby bust averaging 135 annual births of which only the first 3 years has reached the age to start kindergarten averaging 144 students.
Enrollment at a school can decrease even though people are moving into the community. Net influx is an ongoing trend averaging 2.9% net since 2000, 2.5% since 2010, 2.7% since 2015, and 2.7% over the last two years. The elementary school situation is relatively small kindergarten classes are entering while larger 5th grade classes are exiting.
Demographics reports can have problems. The 2014 demographics report was flawed resulting in projecting 1393 students for fall 2019. Actual enrollment is 1070. Voters in 2015 recognized that flaw and rejected the Overlook bond proposal by a 4 to 1 ratio.
The Board of Education didn’t order demographics report until after deciding upon a K-8 school. Their demographics report has apparent errors such as expecting 176 kindergarten students despite a birth cohort of only 114. Their demographer’s response was they have proprietary methodology and we “have to put trust (faith)” in them. Despite containing error inflated K-5 enrollment, they projected K-8 decreasing from 2019’s 1,750 students to 1737 in 2023. With those errors corrected, they would have projected about 1,650 K-8 students in 2023.
The BoE’s failure to properly consider demographic projections resulted in an insufficient solution for SSHS which is projected to grow to 1,055 students in 2023 from 849 in 2018. The bond proposal includes a minimal expansion at SSHS, not nearly enough for 200 additional students when already short of STEAM classrooms.
This mistake driven process is precisely why CC4E in 2017 recommended any process considering constructing additional facilities should start with a demographics report using transparent methodology to prevent precisely this situation where a bond proposal is contradicted by their own, flawed, demographics report.
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