District enrollment falls unexpectedly

Ashland School District's enrollment has declined unexpectedly this academic year and the numbers are expected to continue to fall next year, Superintendent Juli Di Chiro told the School Board Monday.

"This has been an unusual spring for us," Di Chiro said. "We just generally do not lose kids at this time of year. I'm just convinced it has to do with the economy."

Parents may be forced to move in the middle of the school year if they have lost a job or are accepting a new one elsewhere, she said.

The district lost seven students at Ashland High School and five at Ashland Middle School last month, which is highly unusual this time of year because parents typically wait until summer to move, Di Chiro said. The total district enrollment is 2,674 students, down about 2 percent from 2,721 students last October.

"We're concerned when we see those numbers go down, because we made some enrollment projections for next year that could be affected," Di Chiro said.

Enrollment is projected to fall by about 60 students next academic year, leaving the district with about $630,000 less than this year, she said.

Kindergarten enrollment for next academic year, which the district uses to gauge enrollment district-wide, also is down significantly from past years. So far, 90 students have signed up to attend kindergarten next year, drastically fewer than the 150 students the district had projected would enroll.

It's likely more kindergarteners will enroll before fall, but typically the district isn't this far from projections this late in the year, Di Chiro said.

"The picture right now is not very good," she said. "It is very concerning to me that we're not further along."

Di Chiro said she is concerned that low enrollment in kindergarten next year could be a sign that numbers will continue to decline in future years, spelling trouble for the district, which receives funds from the state for each student enrolled.

A sharp decline in enrollment forced the district to close Briscoe Elementary School in 2003 and Lincoln Elementary School in 2005.

The district has an opening for a kindergarten teacher at Bellview Elementary School, but Di Chiro said she may decide not to fill the position if enrollment is too low.

"We're going to continue right now with that (job) posting but I'm definitely looking at that just to make sure we're OK with these kind of numbers," she said. "This is a cautionary report and we are watching it."

Contact reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-708-1158 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.

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