August 23, 2012 | Volume 42, No. 34

District enrollment drops 8 percent

As of Tuesday’s first day of classes, 280 students enrolled in Haines Borough School District schools, an 8 percent drop that would qualify the district for supplemental, “hold harmless” funding from the state.

The district makes an official enrollment count, which determines its level of state funding, in October. If the numbers hold steady, the district would see an $85,000 funding cut, and all but about $25,000 would be absorbed by the supplemental funding.

School board members and school officials this week said a significant drop was anticipated. The district last spring based its request to the state for funding on 288 students, but by July had reduced its projection to 275. Last year’s first-day enrollment was 307.

“It is a big drop,” said board member Ann Marie Palmieri. “It has been over 300 the last couple years. We thought it was going to be around 270 last year and the kids came out of the woodwork.”

The decline is big enough to trigger “hold harmless,” extra money which buffers schools from large budget reductions when enrollment drops more than 5 percent in one year.

Along with the state’s buffer, the district has healthy reserves and budgeted conservatively, Palmieri said.

Superintendent Michael Byer said the drop was a concern.

“I’d like to grow (enrollment). We could certainly grow. The good thing about where we’ve been at about 305 (students) is we could comfortably keep music and art and those kind of programs that are great for kids but are frequently cut when enrollment starts to fall,” Byer said.

It’s too early to say if, or what, kind of cuts would be necessary next year if numbers don’t rebound, Byer said. “We’ll have to cross that bridge when we come to it. I’d hope we could keep our numbers up. I don’t know what Headstart and preschool (enrollment) numbers are this year.”

Under “hold harmless,” the state pays 75 percent of the difference in state funding due to a drop in enrollment the first year of the enrollment drop. The compensation is reduced to 50 percent in the second year and 25 percent in the third year, before ending.

“Hold harmless” funding was started by the state in recent years after districts were sued for breaking teacher contracts in the wake of enrollment declines. The Haines district, which made such cuts and got caught up in teacher lawsuits in the early 2000s, was cited in the creation of the program.

Enrollment on Tuesday included 100 students in kindergarten through fifth grade; 60 in grades six through eight, 89 in the high school, 10 at Mosquito Lake and 11 homeschooled through the district.

The numbers represent about 12 fewer high school students than last year. Mosquito Lake’s enrollment of 10 students is the minimum the state allows for state funding of a separate-site school.

In other school news, Byer said changes to parking rules around the school are still in flux. The district has lined the school parking lot, put up signs and painted directional markers.

Diagonal parking spaces that are only six-feet wide will be repainted, as they’re too narrow, Byer said.

Rectangular spaces are nine feet wide, which is still a foot less than the width prescribed in borough code, but apparently matches the width at other locations, including the cruise ship dock. Byer said the district had no plans to repaint those. “I don’t know what the remedy would be for that,” he said.

Haines Borough manager Mark Earnest said he measured parking spaces around town early this week, including at the borough administration building, and found the widest was less than nine feet. “I’m treating this as a learning experience for the community. The borough needs to be setting the example. If we’re not, we need to address that.”