Enrollment in the Sitka School District has come in lower than projections, but the impact the decline will have on this year’s budget is not yet fully known.
Sitka schools had 38 students less than expected in October — the month when enrollment is officially counted and reported to the state for budgetary purposes.
The student count of 1,205 is down five percent from last year, and 2.5 percent lower than projections.
Superintendent Mary Wegner told the Sitka School Board at its regular November meeting (11-5-18) that Sitka wasn’t alone in showing a larger-than-anticipated drop in the student population.
“We did not anticipate the economic downturn enough,” Wegner told the board. “We do know that other Southeast Alaska communities are also experiencing a decline.”
While the district makes an effort to understand why students leave school, the answer has been difficult to pinpoint. Major events like the closure of the APC Mill and Sheldon Jackson College were both reflected in school enrollment.
Wegner says that this year the district is tracking a different trend.
“We know that our birth rates are down in Sitka, and we also know that we’re seeing a decrease in the number of younger students coming into the system,” she said.
On the positive side of the bottom line, Wegner reported an uptick in the number of students with special needs — each one of whom is worth 13 regular students in the state budgeting formula for schools.
She told the board that the district’s business office was preparing an estimate of the financial impact that October’s enrollment numbers would have on the district’s budget, which is just over $22 million for the current school year.
In the past, the district has sometimes caught an unexpected break on its utility bills to help make ends meet.
With that in mind, Wegner told the board “let’s hope it’s a warm winter.”