SHERIDAN — Enrollment decreased in fall 2017 for K-12 public schools in Wyoming, but not by much. Compared to fall 2016, enrollment dropped about 0.3 percent from 93,261 students to 92,976.
As of Oct. 2, 2017, according to the Wyoming Department of Education, overall enrollment in Sheridan County increasaed 0.86 percent, from 4,537 students to 4,576.
Area school districts experienced all three enrollment possibilities. Sheridan County School District 1 enrollment decreased from 945 to 930 students, about a 1.6 percent drop. SCSD2 had an increase of about 1.5 percent from 3,495 students to 3,549. SCSD3 remained the same at 97 students.
The three Sheridan County school districts are emblematic of state trends, as 25 school districts had declining enrollment, 21 increased enrollment and two stayed the same.
The enrollment numbers not only provide a starting point for each district’s long-term sustainability, they also affect school district funding.
The state’s current funding model is based in part on average daily membership, so if enrollment increases, funding does as well. The opposite is also true, making it tough for schools to deal with losses in enrollment in addition to recent cuts in the state’s education budget.
SCSD2 assistant superintendent Scott Stults said the rising enrollment will help SCSD2 deal with any potential cuts by the Legislature to the education budget.
Stults also said the enrollment increase may be caused by people moving to Sheridan in search of jobs.
“I’m not making any insinuations about the other districts, but I am (about) ours: We’ve got families moving here for one reason only, and that’s our schools, our quality of schools,” Stults said. “That’s a huge impact. If you’re going to be unemployed … as a parent, your first question is, ‘Where are the best schools?’”
SCSD2 has had increased enrollment for the past 13 years and Stults said that will likely continue next year.
The main unknown SCSD2 and other school districts face is the number of kindergartners who enroll each year. SCSD2 kindergarten enrollment takes place in early February.
“That’s a huge impact on what that looks like for our overall district enrollment,” Stults said. “We kind of hold our breath a little bit once we get through that registration to see what our kindergarten numbers are going to be.”
In all three school districts, the change in enrollment by grade was mixed. Out of 13 grade levels, SCSD1 saw enrollment increases in six grades and decreases in seven.
Most changes were small, but a few stood out. Kindergarten decreased from 98 to 82 students; 12th grade went down from 70 to 53; and 11th grade increased by 11 students.
SCSD2 saw increases in seven grade levels and decreases in six. Enrollment in grades 5-12 went up in all but two grades (seventh and 11th). Conversely, there was a decrease in all K-4 grades but first.
In SCSD3, six grades saw increases, six had decreases and one stayed the same. Likewise, SCSD3 superintendent Charles Auzqui said the SCSD3 district budget should stay about the same as long as the students stay with the district for the remainder of the 2017-18 school year.
SCSD3 records average daily membership through Powerschool hourly for students in grades 7-12 and daily for grades 1-6.
The school district will graduate nine seniors and likely have three or four kindergartners next year, so enrollment will slightly decrease.
A 2 to 3 percent fluctuation in average daily membership is normal, but any additional changes cause more volatility for the smallest school district in Wyoming.
“We have families with five or six kids, so if we lose two families, that’s 10 kids and that’s 10 percent of our population,” Auzqui said. “That’s a huge impact.”
Auzqui certainly doesn’t know if a family will move away but must prepare for the scenario if it does.
“It’s not predictable, but the reality is it’s January and we need to start planning that piece of what that looks like for funding and staffing,” Auzqui said. “With legislation wanting to cut anywhere from 3 to 9 percent of our budget … I think we have some challenges ahead of us.”
Auzqui said funding cuts would probably result in less money for school supplies, professional development and travel for staff and students.
As Wyoming’s legislative session draws near, school districts’ abilities to weather potential funding cuts significantly depends on enrollment.