The Valdez Star - Serving Prince William Sound and Copper River Basin

By Lee Revis
Editor, Valdez Star 

Budget for education may take a hit

State's student enrollment count for funding may come up short


The student population count for the three schools in the Valdez district were well below projected enrollment numbers after the state's official school population count ended last Thursday.

While a final report and actual population numbers for the state's budgeting purposes are not final, a tally of the final working numbers supplied by Amber Cockerham, the finance director for Valdez City Schools, were not promising.

Hermon Hutchens Elementary School has a final number of 280.9 enrolled students for kindergarten through grade 5; Gilson Middle School 144.75 students and Valdez High School 184.55.

"I just had the numbers reported to the school district," Cockerham said in a brief interview Monday afternoon.

That adds up to 610.20 students, which is seven students less than were counted in late September and almost 21 less student enrolled than were projected for this year.

The low student count will add up to a significant cut in state funding for the district, which calculates how much money it will fund all Alaska districts during student enrollment population counts each fall. This year's population count began September 30 and ran through October 25.

For Valdez City Schools, the difference in projected population numbers versus what the state actually pays the district for the year could add up to around a quarter of a million dollars.

A final report to the district was set to be delivered by Melissa Reese after Tuesday's press deadline.

The actual amount the state will pay per student (Base Student Allocation or SBA) enrolled in the district for this year will not be known for some time according to Cockerham. This is due to the fact that there are usually negotiations between the district and state on which number of students actually are considered full-time, which absent students were absent but excused during the count and other factors.

The reason fractional numbers reported as students enrolled in the district can be caused by a number of factors Cockerham said.

The district cannot receive full credit for attendance for students that did not attend classes all day during the count for instance.

"You only receive a portion of the time they were here," Cockerham said.

The district can also claim partial credit for students that are home-schooled but attend some classes in the district.

"We have two students at the high school that are considered home-schooled," she said.

Valdez Star photo

Valdez High School posts its attendance percentages at the school's entrance every week. The school district is struggling with dwindling student enrollment, which has an adverse impact on its state funding.

The BSA for this school year is $5680 per student.

While other factors also influence the amount of funding schools receive - a special needs student may qualify the district for extra funding to pay for specialized equipment or staffing for instance - the BSA is often thought of as the core of the state's share of education funding.

Like many school small school districts in Alaska, Valdez has seen a steady decline in student enrollment for almost 10 years.

Midway through last year's count in October of 2012, Valdez City Schools averaged a district-wide enrollment of 635 students, 30 short of its estimate used to figure the budget before the school year started.

In 2011, the state officially funded Valdez City Schools based on a student count of 673.15 students.


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