Anchorage schools lose more than 1,000 students

Posted: Wednesday, May 28, 2003

ANCHORAGE - The Anchorage School District has lost more than 1,000 students this school year, which will reduce its state funding by millions of dollars.

The cuts will be particularly hard since the district already is predicting a multi-million-dollar shortfall because of state education cuts.

Most of the loss has come from the high schools.

The official enrollment this school year, taken Sept. 30, 2002, is 50,029 students. But administrators report that number has dropped to 48,974, just below the 48,980 students enrolled one year ago.

Neal Fried, a state labor economist who tracks Alaska employment trends, was surprised by the drop.

"The economy should be having just the opposite effect," he told the Anchorage Daily News.

Anchorage saw more people move in than out last year, and Fried expects that again this year. The job market is stable enough and the unemployment rate of 5.2 percent is nearly identical to spring of 2002.

"You have a national economy that's not doing very well," Fried said. "We're doing a little bit better."

School Superintendent Carol Comeau said students may have left because of layoffs at some large companies. Or they might be leaving for private schools, or home or correspondence school programs. Perhaps some students have moved back to the Bush.

"We just don't know," said Comeau, who has heard other Alaska superintendents ponder the loss of students in their districts as well.

As of the end of last week, the Juneau School District reported 5,357 students attending. Official enrollment reported to the state last fall was 5,452, although the mechanism for the two counts was slightly different.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District started the year with 9,664 students, and last week reported 9,490.

The Matanuska Susitna Borough School District reported 13,588 students enrolled last September. Enrollment was recorded last week at 13,429 students.

The Anchorage enrollment report, issued last week, showed most of the 1,055 students leaving the system were in high school.

The decline could mean less money for the district.

The state funding formula gives districts about $4,010 per student, also factoring in school size, local cost of living and local taxes, said Janet Stokesbary, district chief financial officer.

Stokesbary said the 2003-04 school year budget includes about $195 million from the state funding formula.

The district already planned to revisit the budget after state education cuts implemented by the Legislature and Gov. Frank Murkowski become final. Those cuts could amount to as much as a $14 million loss for Anchorage schools.

"With this number of kids that have already left, I'm going to take another look at our (enrollment) projections," Comeau said. "Because if we don't get the enrollment and don't get our revenue, we're going to be in a worse spot."

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