Scottsdale district enrollment drops this year

Enrollment in the Scottsdale Unified School District elementary schools is down 8 percent this year over last year — a turn of events that’s likely to fuel the ongoing debate over whether to close schools in the district.

Six elementary schools showed declines of 11 percent or more in enrollment, and all of them were at 75 percent capacity or less last year.

Districtwide enrollment was down about 4 percent, while the high schools lost no student population.

The Arizona Republic compared the district’s enrollment report from the 10th day of the school year last year — Aug. 20, 2013 — with the report from the 10th day this year — Aug. 19.

The elementary schools with the largest decreases in enrollment are Anasazi, 11 percent; Kiva, 12 percent; Navajo, 18 percent; Pueblo, 13 percent; Redfield, 11 percent; and Tonalea, 16 percent.

Arcadia Neighborhood Learning Center, a K-8 school, declined by 11 percent.

Last January, the district released a report that showed that 15 elementary schools were at 75 percent or less capacity. Four were below 55 percent — Navajo, Hohokam, Yavapai and Tonalea. The governing board discussed the declining enrollment but ultimately voted to close only the campus of Tonalea Elementary School. Tonalea’s entire population and staff was moved to a smaller campus that previously housed a preschool.

With an excess of space in most of the 31 schools, the district this year shut down more than 76 classrooms across the district, cutting off power to save on utility costs.

The administration is considering asking voters to approve a bond, possibly in 2015, to pay for renovating the elementary schools, several of which are more than 50 years old.

The declining enrollment likely will be part of that debate.

Navajo’s enrollment of 371 students is down 18 percent from this time last year. In January, that school was listed as one of the most underenrolled in the district, at 47 percent of its capacity.

Navajo and Pueblo are the two district schools closest to the two new charter schools that opened this year. One is the combined campus of Archway Classical Academy Cicero and Cicero Prep, at Indian Bend and Pima roads, which has a combined enrollment of 643. The Noah Webster Pima campus has 315 students in grades kindergarten through 6.

The decrease is bigger than was predicted by the last demographic report commissioned by the district. That report, released in March, said that annual declines of 1 to 2 percent would be due to migration to charter, private and other out-of-district choices as well as an overall drop in the school-age population.

High schools steady

Superintendent David Peterson said the decrease in elementary numbers wasn’t unexpected because preschool and kindergarten enrollment had been down the past few years, and he acknowledged the draw of the two new charters.

He also said that a better picture is seen in the 100-day enrollment in the district, which has more solid numbers than those in the first weeks of the year. That population, determined in January 2014, was 24,578 districtwide, which means this year’s enrollment fell 2.5 percent from that time.

The school-by-school breakdown of the January enrollment shows that some of the population declines occurred during the school year last year, not just over the summer.

For example, Navajo started the 2013-14 school year with 453 students, had 422 at the 100-day mark in January, and 371 on Aug. 20 this year.

Peterson said the district will begin conducting forums next January to discuss the fate of the underenrolled schools.

The enrollment decrease is not affecting the high schools — a trend that Peterson has seen for several years, although he says the reasons are difficult to track.

Typically, while the highly ranked charter schools have long waiting lists for lower grades, they do see enrollment declines into the high-school grades. Last year, Basis Scottsdale and Scottsdale Prep had fewer than 50 graduates each, compared with about 2,000 in the five Scottsdale district high schools.

Arcadia, Chaparral, Desert Mountain and Saguaro high schools all had steady enrollments, while Coronado saw a 4 percent increase this year.

Constant cutbacks

The opening of the two charter schools coincided with the reduction of art, music and physical-education classes in Scottsdale district schools. Last year, the district increased class sizes.

That was one reason that Jeff Vail moved his son, now in fifth grade, from Pueblo Elementary School in the district to the Noah Webster charter school.

“It was frustrating as a parent when you saw the constant cutbacks over the years,” he said. “It was hard to see teachers spending money out of their own pockets on their classroom.

“We had programs being cut and classrooms with 35 to 40 students,” he said. His son is now in a classroom with fewer than 30 students this year.

Another factor in the family’s decision was convenience.

“The parking lot at Pueblo was mass chaos every day,” he said. Noah Webster assigns parents a strict 10-minute time frame in which to pick up children, lessening congestion on the campus and stress at the end of the day.

“They don’t mess around there,” he said.

Peterson said he’s optimistic that the district enrollment will eventually rise, partly because 5,000 new apartments are under construction in the south part of the city.

“We use a conservative estimate that 20 percent of those families will have children,” he said. “That’s 1,000 families with children.”

By the numbers

Article source: http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/scottsdale/2014/09/12/scottsdale-district-enrollment-drops-year/15514469/