Local News

High enrollment won’t budge next year’s school budget

Despite an upswing in enrollment, the Sitka School Board is going to be cautious as it starts to build next year’s budget.

At its regular meeting this week, the board decided to assume that Sitka Schools will have about 20 fewer students than they have now.


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It’s a bit of a game, choosing an enrollment number — and according board president Lon Garrison, the single most…

“…important parameter for determining the school budget.”

At the moment the district has 1321 students, down 17 from when the official school census was taken in October.

That decline is typical, school officials say. But it’s also well above the 1,295 the district built this year’s budget on.

The unexpected surplus of students was a major factor in a $1-million increase in the 2013-2014 budget.

Each student is worth money to a school district. The state calls it the “base student allocation,” and it’s also sometimes called the “foundation formula.” And it’s not exactly spare change.

“By the time you get through the formula the students are pretty close to $9,000 a piece.”

That’s superintendent Steve Bradshaw. The $9,000 per student is dwarfed by the revenues for intensive needs students. That comes to around $75,000 per student. The Sitka School District had 42 intensive students during the October census, three more than it planned for in the budget.

But board members were not feeling rich, and not confident that the upswing in enrollment was a trend. District business manager Cassee Olin dismissed the idea that enrollment was up due to the construction of the Blue Lake Hydro Expansion project.

She said only two students could be attributed to all the capital projects underway in Sitka at the moment.

Superintendent Bradshaw had the explanation, but not the reason, for the bump.

“You brought in 126 kindergarteners and had a graduating class of 69. That pretty much accounts for the numbers right there.”

This was the second year in a row that a large kindergarten class began school. Why there are large numbers of six- and seven-year olds in Sitka remains a mystery.

By starting with a conservative estimate of student numbers, the board will be forced to put some major cuts on the table. They’ve scheduled a series of public hearings through the end of March to discuss them. The first hearing will take place in joint session with the Sitka assembly on Thursday February 6.

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