Enrollment dropped this year at numerous Kent School District schools, including Meridian Middle School. COURTESY PHOTO, Kent School District

Enrollment dropped this year at numerous Kent School District schools, including Meridian Middle School. COURTESY PHOTO, Kent School District

Enrollment drops again in Kent School District

A decrease of 1,304 students this year compared to September 2020

Student enrollment continues to drop in the Kent School District and could lead to staffing cuts in a couple of years when federal relief funds run out.

The district had 1,304 fewer students on the first day of school this year compared to last year, according to district documents, with a drop from 24,414 to 23,110. Over the last five years, district enrollment has dropped by 2,870 students since a peak in 2016-2017.

The numbers matter because an enrollment report that the district sends to the state is the primary driver of revenue for the district’s budget. State funding now accounts for over 70% of budgeted revenue to the district, according to district documents. Enrollment also heavily influences staffing decisions by virtue of contractual provisions with the district’s bargaining units

“I don’t think we need to revise the budget or revise expenditure authority this year,” said Ben Rarick, district executive director of budget and finance, to the Kent School Board during its Oct. 13 meeting. “But it will be necessary for a recalibration of staffing for the 2023 budget cycle.”

Rarick said the next financial statement later this year will show there is sufficient federal aid to not cause alarm for 2021-2022. The Kent School District will receive about $99.2 million over the next couple of years from federal relief from the American Rescue Plan Act due to COVID-19 that can be spent through 2024, according to the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

“But it’s a serious and significant issue long term,” Rarick said.

The enrollment also is down about 1,072 students from what district staff budgeted for this year. Rarick said projections were that with the return to in-person schooling, the district would pick up students who didn’t enroll last year due to the pandemic.

“We didn’t get any students back and we dropped down even further,” Rarick said.

Rarick said he didn’t have any estimates yet about how much money the district might lose from the state with the smaller enrollment.

The district, however, receives roughly $10,000 per student from the state. Under that rough calculation, a decline of 1,000 students could cost the district about $10 million.

Rarick said, however, students can qualify in certain categories that would mean the district would get a higher pay rate per student from the state.

School leaders don’t want to get back to the budget deficit they were in five years ago when a miscalculation by staff of declining student enrollment of about 500 students cost the district nearly $7 million that staff and the board hadn’t planned on losing.

Board member Leslie Hamada said it’s important for the district to prepare a long-term plan to avoid a budget shortfall.

Rarick said enrollment is down and staffing is up, and that this isn’t just a one year decline but over multiple years. He said the district cannot keep the same staffing levels with enrollment declining.

“This is a very important factor in financial planning in the next two to three years as (federal relief) funding goes away,” he said.

Rarick said staff is studying the reasons why student enrollment is declining, but that information isn’t available yet.

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