School enrollment numbers in Juneau buck declining trend

Students study in the hallway at Yaakoosge Daakahidi Alternative High School. (Photo by Heather Bryant)
Students study in the hallway at Yaakoosge Daakahidi Alternative High School in October 2012. (Photo by Heather Bryant)

Summer vacation is over and as hundreds of students walk back into classrooms, school administrators are eagerly counting how many kids they’ll have under their watch.

This year, the Juneau School District is bucking a trend of declining enrollment. The district has counted more students than expected and higher enrollment could land it enough money to cover part of a near $450,000 cut in state funding.

Michelle Coutu just moved to Juneau from Ashburn, Virginia. She recently registered two of her boys at Harborview Elementary School, and a third in middle school.

“It was pretty easy, I’ve got three boys so I had to do the same paperwork for three boys. I probably should have photocopied it. It probably would’ve made it a little easier,” Coutu said.

Like every other parent who enrolled kids in Juneau schools this year, Coutu is a contributor to what could turn out to be a huge win for the Juneau School District. According to a district budget document, enrollment has mostly fallen over the past decade. This year it could be at its highest since 2013.

Enrollment history for the Juneau School District included in the district's adopted budget for FY17. (Courtesy of the Juneau School District)
Enrollment history for the Juneau School District included in the district’s adopted FY17 budget. (Courtesy Juneau School District)

David Means, the district’s director of administrative services, said more students mean more money from the state.

“We’re about 230 students more than projected at this point in time. However, our projections really count during the month of October,” Means explained.

In October, school districts send a tally of students to the state to determine exactly how much of the education money appropriated by the legislature each district will get.

Means said his projections don’t include all the new kindergarteners or dropouts, and he doesn’t know how many special education students the district will have. He said the district gets about 13 times the money for some students with special needs.

In October, Means will have more certainty on all those numbers.

“Usually our initial numbers are (a) little bit high at this time of year and they come down a little bit in October,” he said.

Means believes the actual increase will fall somewhere between 160 and 200 additional students. That would give the district a boost in funding it could really use.

In June, Gov. Bill Walker cut the state’s education budget by more than $58 million through a series of vetoes. The vetoes left the Juneau School District with a $200,000 cut to its operating fund and a $250,000 cut to its student transportation funding.

Means believes the additional funding from higher enrollment could cover much of the loss.

“Plus, because we have more students, we’ve had to add almost the equivalent of three additional teachers in various schools across the district,” he said. “So that additional state funding will pay for the salaries, and benefits, and supplies of those new teaching positions as well.”

Means doesn’t know why there’s a gap between this year’s actual and projected enrollment. He said the higher numbers are unusual. In the past three years, the district’s final enrollment was either the same as projections or it was lower than predicted.

He may not be able to explain the increase, but Means said it’s a big help. Parents like Michelle Coutu may have unknowingly saved the school district the trouble of solving a bothersome funding problem.

Editor’s Note: Originally this story stated Juneau School District faced a $200,000 deficit. That was inaccurate. Governor Walker’s vetoes led to a near $200,000 cut to the district’s operating fund and a near $250,000 cut to its Pupil Transportation Fund.

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