Douglas County schools are in a unique period of time. For all of our lives the earth’s population has grown, but according to a recent study, population has leveled out.
What does this mean for our schools?
According to the Oregon Department of Education, Douglas County school populations are falling. In the 2002-03 school year, Douglas County had 18,546 children enrolled in public schools. In the 2011-12 school year, only 13,760 children were enrolled.
In other words, we have seen a 25 percent drop in school enrollment in Douglas County in the last 10 years.
Looking at those last 10 years, local districts have felt the pinch of declining enrollment. Reedsport School District has the honor of being at the top of the list, with a 33 percent decline in student enrollment. That’s followed by Glendale with a 28 percent drop, South Umpqua at 23 percent decline, Glide with a 20 percent drop and Yoncalla at 14 percent. Sutherlin and Winston-Dillard are tied at 13 percent, Oakland dropped 9.5 percent, Roseburg 7 percent and North Douglas 5.7 percent.
Since the funding formula is based on the number of students attending school, or as I call it, “butts in seats,” we have had a large decline in funds our schools have to stay afloat.
As student numbers have fallen, all of these districts have sharpened their pencils, tightened their belts and worked harder on the next year’s budget. But there is only so much that can be responsibly cut from a budget. The key in budgeting is to cut things that will not adversely affect the student, and hope the great money fairy in Salem leaves more money than he takes in mandates.
Well, as any school district business manager can tell you, the Salem money fairy has no more to give.
Thus Douglas County has seen a wide range of budget decisions, school closures, four-day school weeks, contracting services, increased class sizes, elimination of staff and, of course, increased fees to families with students. None of these options is anything new and all of them carry consequences.
With all that said, as a fellow board member and community member, I do feel Roseburg’s pain and will also offer some advice.
Declining enrollment is a population issue, and until we have more kids enroll than leave the district, school closures are a reality.
Sam Lee of Lookingglass is a member of the Winston-Dillard School Board, Oregon Virtual Education Board and the Oregon School Board Association board of directors, as well as being a parent and grandparent. He can be reached at email@example.com.