School enrollment up

Shift to alternative programs predicted soon

Posted: Thursday, August 24, 2000

Kenai Peninsula schools are shrinking.

Enrollment in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District should be up this year, but by 2002 will resume the slide that began in 1998, according to new district projections. Enrollments are vital for the schools, because the counts determine how much funding the district receives and how many teachers will have jobs.

The school board unanimously accepted the "Six Year Enrollment Projections and Plan" for 2000-01 through 2005-06 at Monday's meeting.

Assistant Superintendent Patrick Hickey, the district's business manager, cautioned that projections, especially for several years in the future, are soft numbers and subject to change.

But the short-term trends are fairly clear, he said.

"The enrollment is projected to decline over the next few years. The enrollment of kindergartners has been smaller than (the number of) graduating seniors, verifying this trend," he said.

The estimated total student count for the school year beginning today is 10,061, up from 9,893 last year. The district's enrollment peaked during the 1996-97 school year at 10,396. Anticipated increases this year and next are due to more students signing up for Connections, the district's cyber school now entering its second year, a new Spring Creek prison program and other alternative programs.

Most other schools are projected to continue losing students, especially in the youngest grades. The biggest numerical declines for this year are expected to be at Soldotna Elementary, Seward Elementary, Ninilchik, North Star Elementary, Sears Elementary and Sterling Elementary.

Schools projected to gain the most students compared with last year are the district's large high schools, particularly Soldotna and Homer. Over the next five years, some elementary schools may shrink by a quarter or a third from their size last year.

In other school board business:

n Mark Larson, a science teacher at Skyview High School, was honored by the board for having taken part in a competitive Fulbright Scholarship program to Japan for educators.

"My trip to Japan was a great opportunity to represent the district and learn about another culture," he told the board.

Larson plans to use the information and contacts from the trip to have marine science students study Pacific currents, tides and how those effect plants and animals, he said.

n Prisoners can be students, too.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is in the process of working with Sen. John Torgerson, R-Kasilof, and the state Department of Corrections to set up a school within the Spring Creek Correctional Center in Seward to educate about 50 juvenile offenders who have not completed high school.

Although the program would be administered from Seward High School, it would be considered a separate school.

"The district has no choice," explained Ed McLain, the assistant superintendent for instruction. "Those kids cannot be transported over to Seward High."

The district is working on getting state, rather than borough, funding and arranging the necessary security to make the project feasible. It should be in place before the end of the calendar year, he said.

n Students who want to use the Internet at school will need less paper work than in the past.

The school board unanimously approved a policy revision that allows families to opt out of aspects of Internet use or publishing, but assumes that such use is okay unless families return the form. Families no longer need to file paper work to approve the Internet use as they did in previous years.

The next meeting of the school board will be Sept. 11 in the Borough Building in Soldotna.

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