Eagle County School District enrollment ticks upward, beating projections | VailDaily.com

Eagle County School District enrollment ticks upward, beating projections

The district was over its projections by 180 students despite concerns over COVID-19, demographer expectations and homeschooling

Colorado school districts rely on enrollment numbers — determined in an annual October student count — for funding.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily File

Eagle County School District saw an increase in its enrollment this year, beating demographer expectations for the county and bucking homeschool trends from the previous year.

Colorado school districts rely on enrollment numbers — determined in an annual October student count — for funding. Sandy Farrell, the district’s chief operating officer, said Eagle County School District will receive $9,407.43 per pupil this year, based on the average count over the last five years.

This data is used as part of the state’s formula for the School Finance Act, which generates a set amount of money for the district and accounts for the majority of the Eagle County school district’s revenue (nearly 70%). Funding for the Act comes from state and local taxes, but the amount per district is driven by this student count. Additional student population factors, such as at-risk students, also drive the amount of funding per district.

“Obviously at 70% of our budget it provides us with the lion’s share of revenue,” said Matt Miano, the district’s chief communications officer, of the School Finance Act.

Professional demographers previously predicted that Eagle County Schools would lose 200 students by this year, stating that families wouldn’t move to the community as a result of pandemic challenges and high cost of living. However, the district is not seeing the impact of this in this year’s October count.

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This year, the local district was over its projected enrollment by 187 students. The state averages enrollment over a five-year period to avoid any dramatic impacts to budget, Superintendent Philip Qualman said at Wednesday’s school board meeting.

This means that the district will receive an increase in funding based on an increase of 32.4 students (rounded down to 32 students), which equals an additional $304,800.73 in per-pupil funding.

Staffing help

The other impact of this October count is to staffing. Depending on the enrollment numbers at each school, schools can see an increase (or decrease) in the number of staff members allocated to their building. No schools this year will lose funding or staffing due to low enrollment, however, certain schools and departments could see an increase to staff allocations.

These staff allocations are given in the form of full-time equivalency, which denotes the number of full-time positions allocated. 1 FTE is the equivalent of one full-time position.

The schools that will see the largest impact of this are Gypsum Elementary School (1.21 FTE), Red Hill Elementary School (.71 FTE), Battle Mountain High School (2.86 FTE) and Eagle Valley High School (5.38 FTE).

Additionally, Avon Elementary School had enough students added that the district will add .25 FTE to support another teacher leader. Exceptional student services — which includes special education as well as gifted and talented services — will see a net addition of .66 FTE allocated across Berry Creek Middle, Avon Elementary, Red Hill Elementary and Eagle Valley High School.

The partial FTE allocations are often used to extend part-time positions into full-time positions or to bring in temporary substitutes or para support for part-time hours.

“The principals have the discretion to assign those new positions as they see fit based on the needs of their school. Sometimes it might be a certified teacher position if they want to open another classroom at a specific grade level, it could be for an interventionist, it could be for a custodian,” Qualman said.

However, even with these adjustments to staffing, recruiting and hiring challenges could leave these newly allocated positions vacant.

Chris Elliott, the district’s executive director of exceptional student services, said at the meeting that the department will get “as creative as possible to support schools and students” with its additional allocations. And whether its allocating the partial FTE or finding individuals to fill vacancies, Elliot said that his team works “around the clock” doing “quite a lot of piecemealing together to keep services going for students.”

There was some discourse over whether or not this year’s enrollment would see impacts of an increasing number of parents homeschooling children due to COVID-19 and its potential impact on schools. This is something that other school districts across the state have also experienced.

“Last year we saw homeschooling numbers go up, but we were hopeful to see our homeschooling numbers return to a more pre-pandemic level,” Miano wrote. “The district has been happy to see that be the case while also continuing to support those who have opted for the remote learning option and we’re glad we’ve been able to provide five days a week of in-person learning up to this point of the school year.”

In the 2018-2019 school year, there were 93 students being homeschooled, 83 in 2019-2020 school year, 144 in the 2020-2021 school year and 92 in this school year. These numbers only represent the number of families who notified the school district that they would be homeschooling their children.

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