State enrollment figures show increase

They have a year to weigh the options, but nine of Nevada's 17 school districts - including Douglas and Storey counties - will have to make adjustments for a decline in enrollment because fewer students means less state money.

Statewide, the number of students rose 13,000. Almost all of that increase came in Clark County, which grew by 12,460 students, an increase of 6 percent. Washoe County also added 1,474 students, meaning Nevada's rural counties generally lost students or remained about even.

The number of Carson City students rose by 39 to 8,363 - a change of less than 1 percent.

Among the districts with falling enrollments is Douglas County, which will have fewer students for the first time in 17 years. Total enrollment is 7,158, a drop of 2.2 percent.

The decline could be part of a trend, said Rick Keester, Douglas County School District's director of business services.

For the past two years, large graduating classes have been accompanied by smaller kindergarten classes, Keester said.

School district officials will start work on the 2000-01 budget in November and cuts in teaching and administrative staff will be reviewed in anticipation of less state money, Keester said.

Another consideration will be whether a multi-track calendar is necessary in each of the elementary schools, he said.

The state's official student head count was Sept. 17, and school districts are reimbursed on a per-pupil basis. The state sets $3,806 as the basic amount it provides per pupil, then adjusts the figure to account for local sales and property tax revenues.

Carson City, for example, receives $4,266 per student. Eureka County, however, gets just $1,956.

The state funding formula includes a "hold harmless" clause that gives school districts with declining enrollments a year to plan for lower revenues. Growing districts get additional money based on this year's higher enrollments.

Other counties facing declining enrollments include Storey County, where a loss of just 61 students means an 11 percent drop to 471 and the same problems as other counties where enrollment fell.

Lander County, which recorded a 1,534 head count for the 1999-2000 school year, is down 9 percent from the prior year.

"Next year's budget is going to be a tough one, but it's the way that living in these towns goes," said Tonya Jones, Lander County School District's bookkeeper.

A low gold price was the cause for falling enrollment in several of Nevada's rural school districts.

When the gold price crashed, many mine operators either scaled back their employment or closed down. Families moved away.

Enrollment at Elko County School District fell by 2.5 percent to 10,163 students in the current school year.

"If there is a reduction in students, then naturally the teachers aren't needed," said Dick Harris, assistant superintendent for Elko County School District. "Last year was the first time we've had layoffs because of gold declines. This economy is very closely tied to mining."

Humboldt County School District is already bracing for fewer dollars trickling down from the state.

Enrollment for the current year is 4,031, a 6 percent decline.

"We are being very fiscally prudent in preparation for the decline in revenue," Humboldt County School District Superintendent Tony Wiggins said. "But (the decline) goes with the territory in this area."

With less money, the district is considering fewer teaching staff and programs.

"We're looking at what we can and cannot afford," he said.

While the majority of Nevada's school districts must grapple with a decline in student enrollment, seven school districts are growing.

A record 54,088 students have enrolled in schools in Washoe County School District -a 2.8 percent increase from last year.

Esmeralda County School District enrollment is up 6 percent to 103 students.

Enrollment in Lyon County Schools continues to grow, but at a slower rate, said Wade Johnson, the school district's comptroller.

This year's enrollment of 6,538 is up 3 percent. That compares with 8.1 percent growth in the 1996-1997 school year.

"We're slowing down, but we don't anticipate or forecast any decline in future growth," he said.

Clark County School District, which includes Las Vegas, continues to experience growing pains.

County residents have approved four bonds in 11 years and the school district has an aggressive teacher recruitment campaign, but it struggles to keep up with student enrollment.

For the current school year, enrollment is 216,237, a 6 percent increase from last year.

"We're growing so fast that we're encountering problems in hiring principals," said Mary Stanley-Larsen, a spokeswoman for Clark County School District. "People like to look at school districts as having bloated bureaucracies. That's not the case here. It (the growth) is phenomenal. It blows my mind when I stop and think about it."


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