Excerpts from The Aberdeen Daily World. Click on this link to read entire article.
School districts around the Twin Harbors are reeling from the latest enrollment projections.
Aberdeen expects to lose 100 students, Hoquiam about 80, Elma about 70, meaning each district faces losing hundreds of thousands
dollars from the state at the same time mandated raises will force the districts to pay more for the staff they keep.
Smaller districts are affected too; North Beach Superintendent Stan Pinnick said he’s gone from 657 students in November
to 623 in April, and is budgeting for 600 students next year — a drop of almost 10 percent of the student body in a
Montesano School District has seen an enrollment upswing, which puts it ahead of its own enrollment projections this year
and up 65 students this March from the same time last year. But it’s not necessarily a long-term trend, officials warn,
and it doesn’t really make up for last year’s loss of 83 students. Then, the District had to cut $300,000 in programs,
said Montesano Superintendent Marti Harruff.
What, exactly, is driving the loss of students is a mystery to almost every administrator. Everyone agrees the tough
economy seems to have something to do with the lower enrollment, and there appears to be a trough in the live birth rate for
children in the elementary school age group.
“There just appear to be more jobs on the I-5 corridor,” said Mike Parker, superintendent of the Hoquiam School
District. He said the District tracks transcript requests from students who have left, and they tend to be from Chehalis,
Yelm, Tacoma, Rochester and Centralia.
The North Beach superintendent said families are leaving his area for more affordable housing as much as they are for employment.
“Jim Vleming, a regional economist for Grays Harbor County with the Employment Security Department, said it’s
hard to correlate enrollment with unemployment. In the mid-1990s, he said, the unemployment rate was in the double digits,
hitting 14.4 percent in 1993, but enrollment was higher then than now, and the county’s unemployment rate is less than
half of what it was then, 7.1 percent for 2007. In fact, the county’s unemployment numbers have been dropping in tandem
with enrollment since 2002.
“The population and labor force are not in huge decline,” Vleming said. “As far as an exodus goes, I’m
not seeing it in the numbers.”
Aberdeen is one of the hardest-hit districts, losing about 200 students since March of last year and 334 students since
the 2006-2007 school year.
Mike Morris, South Bend superintendent, said his district’s enrollment decline has been gradual over the past few
years. The trickling loss of students should cushion the financial blow of losing about $5,000 per child from the state, but,
Morris said, the costs of simply operating are skyrocketing.
“In October we paid $1.19 a gallon for propane, and last month we paid $2.15,” Morris said. “It all adds
up, and it’s like we’re heading for a Waterloo,” he added, referring to Napoleon’s crushing defeat.
To combat the budget crunch, Aberdeen has said it will close 11 teaching positions and an administrative position and will
look into reducing support staff. Hoquiam is talking about freezing 3.5 teaching and three classified staff positions, but
is aware that the move won’t completely make up the financial difference. Pinnick said he won’t have to lay off
teachers, but he doesn’t expect to fill any positions opened by teachers leaving or retiring. Elma Superintendent Howard
King said his district is looking at laying off “seven or eight” teachers.
Gail Sackman, superintendent of the Ocosta School District, said she’s gotten a lot of applications for her one open
elementary teaching job.
There is light at the end of the tunnel. The Aberdeen superintendent said local birth rates are such that in five years,
a new groundswell of kids should be repopulating the schools. Plus, there are positive economic indicators for the Harbor
— a pontoon project in Hoquiam, the purchase of the Cosmopolis mill, the new biodiesel plant — that should attract
“We just have to wait and see,” Kay said.