Forest Grove schools enrollment trending down
Early signs are pointing to a dip in enrollment for Forest Grove's public schools, and while that makes for smaller class sizes, the drop in students also means less money in the future from the state's per-pupil funding formula.
"These lower class sizes help us to figure out which kids are behind and get them the interventions they need. That's all positive," Superintendent David Parker told the school board Monday, Sept. 12. "With the class sizes of 19, that's not where we're budgeted, so sooner or later, we'll have to deal with that. The bill comes due at some point."
According to Forest Grove School District data stretching back to 1988, enrollment on the fourth day of school peaked in 2019 at 5,930, about six months before the COVID-19 pandemic rocked American education. Enrollment dropped to 5,082 on the fourth day of 2020 before bouncing back to 5,444 last school year and 5,400 this month.
To start the school year, the student-to-teacher ratio counted Sept. 12 in the district's kindergarten and first-grade classrooms are below 20 students per teacher, while the average ratio for second-, third- and fourth-grade is below 22 to one.
For fifth- and sixth-graders at Tom McCall Upper Elementary School, as well as seventh- and eighth-graders at Neil Armstrong Middle School, the average classroom's student-to-teacher ratio rises above 25 to one. The student-to-teacher ratio at Forest Grove High School is 24.6 to one.
In recent years, Forest Grove School District enrollment peaked in 2010-11 with 6,193 students.
According to the study shared with the school board in the spring, the population within Forest Grove School District boundaries, which includes the city of Forest Grove and parts of Cornelius and unincorporated Washington County, grew from 30,220 in 2000 to 31,131 in 2010 to 40,167 in 2020 at an annual growth rate around 1.4%.
However, birthrates in the area have steadily declined over the past 20 years. Between 2001 and 2009, the Forest Grove School District community averaged 527 births per year. Between 2018 and 2021, that rate dropped to 417 births per year.
District officials told the school board that while class sizes and staffing levels will remain stable this school year, they could be forced to make cuts going forward, as part of state funding is based on enrollment averages from previous school years.
"We're able this year, with the carryover from the fund balance from last year, to sustain this level of funding, even with reduced enrollment, but if we do continue to see this level of enrollment, we will have to adjust staffing," finance director Ilean Clute told the board. "It will be challenging to come out of that. To adjust, we don't want to do that this year. It will likely be a significant loss when that happens."
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