Editor, Valdez Star 

Upped student count gives school district a boost

Number of kids enrolled in classes goes up from past several years


How many students are enrolled in Valdez City Schools this year? And why does it matter so much?

As of Friday, there were 640 students attending classes in Valdez - that is 38 more kids than the same time last year according the Amber Cockerham, the district's business manager.

"Last year we had 602 at count," she said. "We projected 604 students - it's coming in way over projection."

Each spring, the district's board of education is tasked with setting a budget for the coming school year - without knowing exactly how many students it will have. This forces school boards to make an educated guess at how many students will be attending school in the coming year.

This can be a thankless task because a large portion of education budgets for Alaska schools are determined by the student population that is counted during a set period each October. The formula, known as the Base Student Allocation, or BSA, pays school districts a set amount for each student it has enrolled. This year, the BSA is $5880.

"The count period just ended Friday," Cockerham said.

Students with intense special needs are funded at a higher rate. Other factors that can make or break a district's budget is the fact that the BSA is set in stone - if the student population increases later in the year, the district does not receive additional funding. The reverse is also true.

This year's student count has not yet been finalized by the state. A number of factors can come into play when setting the population count. Students that recently transferred to Valdez from a different school district may have been counted twice and students that do not attend classes full time - such as homeschooled kids that take one or two classes are counted in fractions.

The addition of a homeschool program within the district has also helped boost numbers.

"The home school has 19 students," Cockerham said.

The district's superintendent, Jim Nygaard, pushed the board of education to institute the program last year.

Cockerham said there are 311 students currently enrolled at Hermon Hutchens Elementary School, 139 at Gilson Middle School and 177 at Valdez High School.


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