DALLAS — If not for the COVID -19 pandemic, Dallas School District may have experienced an increase in enrollment, according to a report Superintendent Andy Bellando shared with the Dallas School Board on Oct. 12.
But as we are still living in 2020, the opposite has happened. The district enrollment was down 189 students, or 6.4% as of Oct. 10 compared to last school year.
“In an ordinary year, we would have really, a pretty good sense of stability of enrollment by the first week of October. In fact, Oct. 1 enrollment numbers are used by the state for a number of calculations and decisions,” Bellando said. “With that said, this year, because it is not so ordinary, I think there’s still some final numbers to be determined.”
The fall in enrollment is no shock, Bellando said.
“We anticipated that. In fact, I’m not certain that there isn’t a school in the state of Oregon that isn’t experiencing a reduction of enrollment right now simply because of the pandemic and distancing learning model that we have developed,” he said.
Bellando said the district may be in a better position than others in the state.
“In checking with a few other school districts, we are probably on the lower end,” he said. “Some districts are experiencing 8, 9 or even 10 percent reductions as compared to this time last year.”
Bellando and Debbie MacLean, the district’s director of fiscal services, aren’t concerned about the drop in enrollment for this year. School funding is tied to enrollment, so that would be a problem in normal year, but the Oregon Legislature pledged to not cut education resources.
Bellando said the students the district lost have enrolled in virtual charter schools, are being home-schooled or are kindergarteners who didn’t enroll. Bellando said students aren’t required to be in school until they are 6 years old.
Lyle and Oakdale Heights elementary school combined have about 50 fewer students compared to last year.
Last year, the district received 76 applications for students to transfer to virtual charter school. This year, that number is 210 with 32 of those being denied. The district can cap transfers out to virtual charter schools at 102 students, or 3% of enrollment, but this year that did not happen.
“I own that. The reality is when we began experiencing literally a flurry of applications for virtual charter schools,” Bellando said. “We were gauging where we were, but simply because of the sheer volume, it was difficult to determine exactly where they were because we didn’t know if they had been accepted by the charter schools. Some were accepting and some were not.”
He added that the state is overturning some denials, and the district has about six more applications in review.
Students leaving the district to be home-schooled increased from 300 to 359, also no a surprise to Bellando.
“All school districts in the Willamette ESD (Education Service District) region are experiencing increases in home-school numbers, some significantly,” he said. “A couple of other school districts much more than Dallas School District.”
Bellando said the district received a document to help refine the number of students in home-school. He believes the true number will be less once the district investigates fully that information.
“We discovered that some students who were home-schooled last year had actually enrolled in Dallas School District this year,” Bellando said.
This year saw fewer students transferring out of the district to attend school in a different district and more transferred in. However, the number transferring out, 75, is still higher than the number of students transferring in, 21.
Bellando said there is a glimmer of good news in the pandemic-driven numbers from this year compared to what was expected in the enrollment study completed two years ago.
“The study consultant was indicating that there would be gradual growth in Dallas over the next few years, from last year and beyond. And if you were to take a look at these numbers with, literally about a 130 increase in virtual charter school kids, the 59 increase in home school kids, and 50 that are not attending in kindergarten, that number total gives the indication that out total enrollment in the district would have been up had we been in ordinary times,” Bellando said. “We won’t know for certain, but it does give me some optimism that we were anticipating an increase in enrollment and we were about to experience it until the pandemic.”
Bellando said the district will track enrollment frequently, with reports given at least monthly. He believes once the district is allowed to return to some form of in-person classes, enrollment will increase, especially at the kindergarten level.
“Based on the input from some of our parents, the answer is yes,” Bellando said. “They want their kids in school. We will see what happens at that time.”
Board member Michael Blanchard asked what would be required with staffing if more kindergarteners enrolled at some point this year.
“We had planned at both schools to adapt to that. We actually have a reduction of a kindergarten teacher at Lyle School,” Bellando said. “If we had any indication that those students were arriving, we would hire an additional kindergarten teacher, which is budgeted. We would only have a short period of time to do that, but we would accommodate them and we would make it happen. We would welcome them with open arms.”
Home-school — 2019-20: 300/2020-21: 359
Virtual Charter School applicants — 2019-20: 76/2020-21: 210 (32 denied)
Kindergarten enrollment — 2019-20: 171/2020-21: 139
Transfers in — 2019-20: 19/ 2020-21: 21
Transfers out — 2019-20: 100/ 2020-21: 75
Total enrollment — 2019-20: 2,846/2020-21: 2,657