Juneau school enrollment up for first time since '01

Additional students could mean extra $1.1 million for district

Posted: Thursday, November 12, 2009

Preliminary counts indicate Juneau school enrollment has defied a downward trend for the 2009-2010 school year, meaning a possible $1.1 million increase in state funding for the district.

Preliminary data for the year indicates the district has 5,034 students enrolled. The district's official projected enrollment was 4,962.

If the count is approved by the state, it would be the district's first overall increase in enrollment since 2001, when it had 5,540 students, according to the Juneau Economic Development Council, which cites data from the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development and the Juneau School District. Also according to that data, counts are up from 4,930 in 2008.

Juneau School District Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich said if the district is asked to adjust its numbers, it will most likely be in a downward direction.

The council said in its 2009 report that Juneau high schools were to be "the hardest hit" by enrollment declines, decreasing 12 percent in the next three years. Grade school population was expected to increase 3 percent by 2011.

In preliminary district counts, Thunder Mountain High School had slightly fewer enrolled students than predicted, but Juneau-Douglas High School had slightly more, averaging out to be in line with projections. Dzantik'i Heeni and Floyd Dryden middle schools and most elementary schools exceeded their projected enrollment.

"When I got to Juneau I was told that we were shrinking. I was told the numbers were going down," Gelbrich said. "But the numbers are actually increasing, and that has an impact on revenue."

The counts are of students who are enrolled in each school; attendance does not impact the count.

Gelbrich said the numbers technically mean the district could approach the Juneau Assembly for more money, but this is a step he does not recommend given the Assembly's projected budgetary woes.

If the school district does end up receiving extra state money - which seems likely - Gelbrich said it would "not be in a hurry" to spend it, given a low projected ending fund balance.

"At minimum it's uncertain, at maximum it's bad news coming," he said.

State funding is calculated using a formula that takes geographic location, building size, enrollment numbers and other factors into account.

In an interesting coincidence, during last year's budgeting sessions the district was faced with a $2 million funding shortfall and cut 13 teaching jobs to save $1.1 million.

Though numbers for this year's budget are not yet in, the School Board has already begun discussing the budgeting process and how to simplify it.

• Contact reporter Mary Catharine Martin at 523-2276 or maryc.martin@juneauempire.com.

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