The number of students enrolled in Aurora schools this fall dropped by almost twice as much as last year, part of a trend district officials have blamed in part on gentrification as housing prices in Aurora climb.
This year, as of Oct. 2, the district has enrolled 41,294 students from preschool through 12th grade. That’s 867 fewer students than last year — and almost twice the number of students lost between 2015 and 2016.
Last October, staff told the board that district enrollment had dropped by a historic amount. At the time, enrollment was 41,926, down 643 from 2015. By the end of the 2016-17 school year, the district had enrolled almost 200 more students.
But in Colorado, school districts are given money on a per-student count that’s based on the number of students enrolled on count day, which this year was Oct. 2.
The district expects to see a similar decline in students again next school year, but expects that new developments start bringing more children to the district in the future.
The good news, provided in the update given to the Aurora school board Tuesday night, is that district officials saw it coming this time.
“The magnitude of the impact is not the same as last year,” said Superintendent Rico Munn. “This kind of decline is now something we will predict and budget to.”
Because enrollment numbers are higher than what officials predicted, the budget that the board approved over the summer should not need adjustments for the current year.
Last year, Aurora Public Schools had to cut more than $3 million in the middle of the year. District officials also worked on gathering input and finding ways to shrink the 2017-18 budget by up to $31 million, but better than expected funding from the state meant the district didn’t end up cutting the full $31 million.
The district may look for ways to trim the budget again next year in anticipation of another anticipated enrollment decline.
Board members asked about other factors that may be contributing to enrollment declines, such as school reputations, and asked about how staff predict future enrollment.
Superintendent Munn told the board that the enrollment decreases are changing several conversations in the district.
“APS was not in the business of marketing our schools,” Munn said. But this year, the district launched an interactive map with school information on the district website to help feature all schools, their programs and their performance measures, and has been doing outreach to the approximately 4,000 Aurora students who leave to attend neighboring districts.
Three schools also received district-level help in creating targeted marketing.
One of those three schools was South Middle School, a low-performing school in the northwest part of the district where enrollment declines are especially drastic.
This year, after receiving some marketing assistance, South was one of few schools in the district that saw enrollment increased. The school’s Oct. 2 enrollment was 825, up from 734 last year.