Early counts show Eagle County School District’s enrollment is dipping below projections

While the numbers are just preliminary, they could impact the district's budget and staffing

Eagle County School District does an initial count of students during the first two weeks of school to compare its numbers against projections. However, these numbers just serve as estimates for the real student count, which occurs in early October.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily archive

As students return to school after summer break and begin settling into the school year, so begins the school district’s annual count of students.

While the official enrollment count occurs in the first weeks of October, Eagle County School District uses the first 10 days of school to predict how enrollment will look for the official count.

“As part of our procedures we go through every year, we go through the first 10 days of school and keep track of the attendance for every school for the first 10 days and monitor to see how we’re coming along with the actual enrollment compared to projections,” said Sandy Farrell, the district’s chief operating officer, at the Wednesday, Sept. 13 Board of Education meeting.

The district makes its projections in the spring during its annual budgetary process as enrollment has implications on not only financing but staffing as well.

Based on the preliminary numbers from the first two weeks of school, the district’s enrollment is down by 148 students compared with its projections.

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Colorado’s School Finance Act allocates funding to districts on a per-pupil basis — $11,096 for the 2023-24 school year. However, the state also allows districts to average enrollment over a five-year period.

For this school year (based on its early numbers), the average would bring the loss of students to 87, with a revenue loss of $954,256, Farrell reported.

These numbers are also used at each school to evaluate staffing ratios. The district only makes adjustments to its staffing for schools that see an increase or reduction of 20 or more students. The preliminary counts show that six schools meet this threshold:

  • Avon Elementary School: 40 fewer students than projected
  • Battle Mountain High School: 60 more students than projected
  • Brush Creek Elementary School: 23 fewer students than projected
  • Eagle Valley High School: 50 fewer students than projected
  • Edwards Elementary School: 22 fewer students than projected
  • Red Sandstone Elementary School: 22 fewer students than projected

While the budgetary implications won’t be taken into account until the district’s January budget revision process, some staffing changes often happen sooner to ensure consistency for students, Farrell said.

“In order to make sure that we’re staffed equitably, we like to make any changes we can after those first 10 days and have staff be relocated or post new positions so that (schools) have enough staff to support their student needs,” she said. “We do make staffing adjustments within 10 days to make sure that we get staff pre-aligned without creating that disruption mid-year.”

She also noted that staffing for certain “block allocations” — such as essential student services and multi-lingual positions — stays the same.

“We try really hard to make sure it’s not a classroom teacher that already has students, because we want to keep as much consistency in each of the buildings, as much as possible,” she added.

It was noted on Wednesday that Red Canyon High School was also more than 20 students below its projections, but that no adjustments will be made to staffing. This is because the school tends to start below capacity and then increase as students migrate there from the other district high schools throughout the year, according to Superintendent Philip Qualman.

These staffing changes are made not only to maintain established student-to-staff ratios at district buildings but also for the district to stay within its budget.

Staffing adjustments are based on FTE, or full-time equivalency, meaning that one FTE translates to one full-time position. On Wednesday, Farrell said that the district’s average cost of one FTE is $95,200, which includes a salary portion of $67,000, with the rest relating to benefits.

Avon Police Department officers Corey Baldwin, back, and Cirilo Zarate, give students high-fives on the first day of school at Avon Elementary School in Avon. According to early counts, Avon Elementary has 40 fewer students than projected for this academic year.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

With current enrollment estimates, total staffing adjustments could be a reduction of six FTEs, which would offset revenue lost from the School Finance Act’s per-pupil funding by about $571,200, Farrell added.

This, she said would mean the preliminary counts would mean a net reduction of the budget of about $383,056.

In looking at the early numbers, the school board took notice in particular of the reductions and gains between Eagle Valley High School and Battle Mountain High School. Out of the 50 students that left Eagle Valley, Qualman reported that about 18 to 20 moved to Battle Mountain.

It was noted by Katie Jarnot, the district’s assistant superintendent, that Tom LaFramboise, Eagle Valley High School’s new principal, did meet and talk with some of the parents and students who made the transfer to determine why. At the meeting, Jarnot indicated there were a “variety of things.”

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Later, to the Vail Daily, Matt Miano, the district’s chief communications officer, said this included “various reasons from athletic, to societal to others just looking for a change,” adding that these reasons are consistent with the rationale given in previous years.

Miano also clarified that the district does not require reasons to be given when families request to switch schools for students. LaFramboise did this to “help him better understand the general atmosphere and culture that exists,” he said.

The enrollment numbers are not yet official, only representing estimates. At Wednesday’s meeting, Qualman confirmed that enrollment tends to increase between the September and October counts, adding that these numbers also often increase past October. But for the district and its budget, it’s those October numbers that really count.

This article has been updated from a previous version to correct that Brush Creek Elementary School, not Berry Creek Elementary School, has 23 fewer students than projected.

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