Taking attendance

State student enrollment grows 1.6 percent

Preschool through 12th grade enrollment in Colorado increased by 13,438 students in the current school year – the rough equivalent of adding a district the size of Littleton.

The increase was 1.6 percent, about what officials had expected, and it brought total enrollment to 876,999. Statewide school enrollment has increased for 24 consecutive years.

As expected, the new count put Denver Public Schools in the top spot with 86,043 students, ahead of the 85,983 in Jeffco, which has been the state’s largest district for several years. (Jeffco put its own spin on the data, issuing a news release Tuesday afternoon noting that it remains the largest district based on K-12 enrollment, not counting preschool.)

Denver’s increase was 3.2 percent, but the largest percentage increase was posted by the Falcon district in El Paso County, which gained 3,402 students, or 22 percent. The Dougco and Aurora districts also gained more than 1,000 students each from the prior year.

Among larger districts, the Adams 12-Five Star Schools dropped 2.4 percent to 42,230 students. The state Charter School Institute, which supervises charters not overseen by school districts, lost 1,281 students, or 10.9 percent. The latest enrollment count also found 16,215 students enrolled in online program, a 2.5 percent drop from 2012-13.

Some of the enrollment shifts were attributable to charter schools moving between districts.

The enrollment figures highlight the size disparities among school districts.

The top 15 districts, from DPS to Pueblo City (which has 17,990 students), enroll a total of 596,868 kids — 68 percent of the state’s total enrollment. At the other end of the spectrum, 136 districts and other education agencies serve only 7.9 percent of total students and have individual enrollments of fewer than 2,000. There are 112 agencies with fewer than 1,000 students each.

All top 15 districts gained enrollment except for Adams 12 and Colorado Springs 11. Falcon’s significant growth moved it into the top 15, jumping over Brighton, Thompson and Littleton. Each of those three districts grew slightly, as did Harrison and Westminster, the only other two districts with more than 10,000 students.

Statewide minority enrollment was calculated at 44.9 percent, compared to 44.4 percent last year. Among ethnic groups, the number of students identified as multiracial increased 8.5 percent, and the number categorized as Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander increased 7 percent.

The enrollment count found 42.2 percent, or 356,890 students, were eligible for free and reduced-price lunch this year, up slightly from 41.9 percent in 2012-13. That designation is used as the proxy to designate a student as academically at-risk, which also is a factor in the funding formula.

Enrollment key to funding

The annual state enrollment figures are closely watched because pupil counts are a key factor in determining how much state aid school districts receive. The figures released Tuesday by the Department of Education are “headcounts” of actual students, regardless of whether they’re full- or part-time. For funding purposes headcounts are translated into a number called full-time equivalent.

Because enrollment is higher than the number estimated when the 2013-14 state budget was approved last spring, districts could receive a mid-year budget increase of up to $55 million. The current budget for basic school operations is about $5.5 billion.

The enrollment is count is based on attendance figures gathered during a small window of days around Oct. 1 that are then audited and compiled by CDE.

That system long has been questioned for its accuracy, and there is growing interest among legislators to switch to a system called average daily membership, which calculates and averages enrollment across the school year. Gov. John Hickenlooper called for that in last week’s state-of-the-state speech.

A bill on the issue is expected during the current legislative session, but nothing has been introduced yet. Making the switch won’t necessarily be easy, as the necessary computer upgrades could be costly. School districts, especially those that could lose enrollment under the new system, also may be skeptical about such a switch.

More enrollment stats

Eleven districts showed growth of 10 percent or higher. In addition to Falcon, Cheyenne Mountain at 10.2 percent was the only larger district in that category.

Some 81 districts and other entities lost enrollment. Other than Adams 12, the only other Denver metro district to register a noticeable decline was Englewood, which dropped 4.9 percent. (Sheridan dropped by one student, well less than 1 percent.)

The other declining districts were generally small, where a fluctuation of a handful of students can make a noticeable percentage difference.

Here are some enrollment trends by grade over the last decade:

  • Preschool enrollment has increased 58.7 percent
  • Enrollment increased by more than 20 percent in grades K-13 and 28.5 percent in grade 12
  • Enrollment increased only 2.3 percent in grade 9 and by less than 10 percent in grades 7 and 8

The state’s smallest district, Agate on Interstate 70 north of Limon, reported 12 students this year, up from 10 in 2012-13.

Of Colorado’s 10 smallest districts or units, five reported growth (Agate, Creede, Pritchett, Silverton and the San Juan BOCES), and five lost enrollment (Campo, Hinsdale County, Kim, Liberty and Plainview). Each has 80 or fewer students.

The count recorded 45,971 students in private schools, about 5,000 fewer than in 2012-13 and down 9.3 percent over the last five years. However the number of home-schooled students was up to 7,489, a 30.4 percent increase from the prior year.

school facilities

Cold temps close Memphis state-run schools, highlighting bigger issue of repairing costly, aging buildings

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Georgian Hills Achievement Elementary was one of four school closed Tuesday due to heating issues.

More than 1,200 students in Tennessee’s turnaround district stayed home from school on Tuesday because their school heating systems weren’t working properly.

Temperatures dipped below 35 degrees, and four schools in the Achievement School District opted to cancel classes because of boiler issues: Georgian Hills Achievement Elementary School, Frayser Achievement Elementary School, Corning Achievement Elementary School, and Martin Luther King Jr. High School. In addition, Kirby Middle School decided to close Wednesday.

Aging school buildings in Memphis have caused headaches and missed school time for Shelby County Schools and the Achievement School District, which occupies buildings rent-free from the local district. Just last week, Hamilton High School in Shelby County Schools closed for two days after a power outage caused by heavy rain, and Kirby High School remains closed because of a rodent infestation. Kirby’s students are being housed in different schools for the rest of the semester while repairs are made to rid the school of pests. And Shelby County Schools had to deal with the dropping temperatures on Tuesday as well, with Westwood High School and Oak Forest Elementary ending classes early due to their own heating issues. Westwood High will remain closed Wednesday.

But Tuesday’s closures for state-run schools point to a larger issue of facilities: In a city full of older school buildings needing expensive updates, who pays, and who does the work? There is a formal maintenance agreement between the two districts, but the lines that divide responsibilities for repairs are not always clear.

Shelby County Schools is responsible for bigger fixes in the state district, such as new roofs or heating and air conditioning systems, while the state district’s charter operators are responsible for daily maintenance.

Bobby White, chief of external affairs for the Achievement School District, said they are working with Shelby County Schools to resolve the heating problem at the three elementary schools, two of which share a building. But he said that the issues won’t be fixed by Wednesday, and the schools will remain closed.

“We know it throws off our teachers and students to miss class,” White said. “It’s an unfortunate situation. And it underscores the larger issue of our buildings not being in good shape.”

The charter organization Frayser Community Schools runs MLK Jr. High School as part of the Achievement School District, and a spokeswoman for Frayser said they were handling the boiler repairs on their own as opposed to working with Shelby County Schools. School will remain canceled at the high school on Wednesday.

“Currently our maintenance team is working with a contracted HVAC company to rectify the heating issue,” Erica Williams told Chalkbeat. “Unfortunately, it was not resolved today, resulting in school being closed Wednesday. While our goal is to have school as soon as possible, we want to make sure it’s in a comfortable environment for our students.”

The state district was created in 2012 to turn around the state’s lowest-performing schools by taking over local schools and giving them to outside charter organizations to run. Shelby County Schools has a crippling amount of deferred maintenance for its school buildings, including those occupied by the state district, that would cost more than $500 million. The Shelby County district prioritizes how to chip away at that huge cost based on how many children are affected, the condition of the building, and the type of repair, spokeswoman Natalia Powers told Chalkbeat, adding that the district has made some major repairs at state-run schools.

But Sharon Griffin, chief of the Achievement School District told Chalkbeat previously that one of her goals is to resolve problems more quickly with Shelby County Schools when a major repair is needed to avoid lost class time.

Still counting

Jeffco bond measure that had been failing pulls ahead in narrow race

PHOTO: Andy Cross/The Denver Post
Students work on breathing exercises during a yoga class at the end of the school day at Pennington Elementary School.

Update: Over the weekend, the bond measure pulled ahead and is currently headed toward passage, with 50.3 percent of the vote. We’ll continue to update this post as new results come in.

Vote tallies released Thursday in Jefferson County show that a $567 million bond request is down by just 132 votes, opening up the possibility that it might yet pass.

We previously reported that Jefferson County voters had approved a $33 million local tax increase but turned down the bond request. At midday Wednesday, just 48 percent of voters had said yes. The gap was roughly 7,000 votes, and the trend hadn’t changed since the first returns were posted Tuesday evening. It appeared to mark the second time in two years that Jeffco voters had turned down a request to issue debt to improve school buildings.

But by Thursday evening, with additional ballots counted, the margin by which Jeffco Measure 5B was failing had narrowed significantly. The 132-vote margin is currently within the window that would trigger an automatic recount. A mandatory recount is triggered when the difference is one half of one percent of the number of votes cast for the higher vote count, according to officials from the Secretary of State’s office.

Backers of the tax measures are holding out hope the result could change.

District officials said they plan to use the proceeds of this year’s tax measures to raise teacher pay, increase mental health support for students, beef up school security, expand career and technical education, improve science facilities, add more full-day preschool, and buy classroom materials and technology.

On Wednesday, Katie Winner, a mother of two students in Jeffco schools, told us the two tax measures were closely tied and both equally needed.

“I want to know what voters were thinking,” she said. “I didn’t see one without the other.”

We’ll keep tabs on the counting and update you as soon as we have a final tally.