Enrollment has dipped 1 percent from last year but beginning fund balance has increased $900,000

Crook County School District recently gave its school board an update on enrollment figures and how it plays into the financial picture for local education efforts.

Business Director Anna Logan announced that the overall number of students had dropped from a year ago at this same time – although the dip was only about 1 percent. That's not exactly panic-worthy, but when the number of students directly correlates with how much funding the State of Oregon provides schools, those numbers matter. Viewed in a vacuum, the district is losing money when enrollment numbers dip.

But that isn't where the story ends and there is more good news than bad when you step back and look at the complete financial picture. The beginning fund balance grew from $2.2 million last fiscal year to $3.1 million this fiscal year. That's close to $1 million extra dollars the district has to start the year. Given that the district has been adding back programs or adding new ones in recent years, it suggests a promising trend.

If Superintendent Dr. Sara Johnson's upcoming "What's Brewing?" presentation is any indication, the district is looking at potentially resurrecting some missing vocational programs that past students had relied on to branch out into well-paying trades. During the community forum, Johnson is expected to discuss "strong electives, extracurricular programs and workforce connections to tie student engagement with the business and economic community."

Who knows where that goes, but in a local economy that is home to large data centers, manufacturing companies and an economic development effort that is constantly chasing traded-sector companies, such additions would give many students a great advantage that they currently lack.

So even though enrollment has dipped a bit, it is clear that the district has managed its finances well to account for the ebbs and flows of student populations. Logan pointed out that enrollment numbers fluctuate for a variety of reasons — birth rates, local employment, etc — but the district has remained on steady footing for several years.

There was a time, just a few years ago, where dips in enrollment were a cause for great concern. There was a time when the recession had stripped the district of funds to the point where massive cuts became necessary — including elimination of some vocational programs the district once provided. During those days, a 1 percent decline in enrollment year-over-year would have been a much bigger deal.

Those darker financial days, of course, coincided with the recent recession and while it is hard to project when the next economic downturn will hit, and how hard it will hit, it is likely a matter of when, not if. For that reason, the school district finances team needs to proceed with a measure of caution and keep those beginning and ending fund balances healthy.

Logan pointed out that the district already faces a likely PERS rate increase next school year and a possible bump in other expenses. So far, that won't result in any major cutting. Hopefully, as the district continues through more economically prosperous times, they will continue to weather rising expenses and prepare for times when revenue is not as plentiful.

Given the recent financial situation, and the fact that the district has increased its beginning fund balance and is looking at adding programs, it seems it is preparing well for whatever the economy throws at everyone next. Given where this district has been just a few years back, that is encouraging to see — regardless of how enrollment numbers change.

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