KENAI (AP) -- Enrollment at Kenai Peninsula Borough public schools has fallen below last year's level and below the district's projections. The new numbers continue a downward trend that began in 1997.
The head counts are bad news for the district, which receives state and borough funding based on the number of students. The administration is examining the numbers from the state's official count, which ended Oct. 26.
The official enrollment in the district's 40 schools was 9,847. Last year, the comparable count was 9,963.
Historically, the district's enrollment tended to increase annually, with the recession of 1987 to 1989 being the only dip. But the enrollment peaked during the 1996-97 school year at 10,396 and started dropping.
Enrollment during the 2000-01 year showed a slight increase above the previous year, but the decline has resumed, and enrollments are down to 1993 levels even though the overall borough population has risen.
A major factor influencing enrollment is demographic changes. According to the 2000 census, the peninsula has fewer small children than it did a decade ago.
Even though the overall population has climbed, most of the new people are too old to have school-age children and the fastest-growing age group is seniors older than 85.
For the past several years, more district students have graduated from 12th grade than entered kindergarten or first grade. This year, for example, attendance records show 578 kindergartners and 714 high school seniors.
So far, the district has about 290 fewer students than anticipated based on last year's numbers.
The shortfall is likely to cause budget reductions for the rest of this school year and lead to staffing cuts for next year.
Melody Douglas, the district's chief financial officer, said the enrollment drop will cost the district money during the rest of this school year, but estimates as to how much are not yet available. She will analyze the numbers and make more detailed projections in the next few weeks.
''Obviously we do have to bring our budget into alignment with this enrollment,'' she said.
Douglas confirmed that schools with significant enrollment drops may lose teachers next year.
The biggest difference between the projected and actual enrollment was in the Connections program, the district's home-school partnership program.
The administration had predicted that the rapid growth of the Connections program would continue and its enrollment would hit 600 this year. But instead its enrollment actually dropped by 33 and is at 429.
The school showing the largest number decline was Soldotna High School, which also experienced a big drop last year. Enrollment there had been expected to go up but went down instead, and with 508 students, the school is 52 shy of expectations.
''I'm not exactly sure what the deal is,'' Assistant Principal Sean Dusek said.
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