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An early count is down 122 students from a year ago, yet 26 higher than budget figure for 2018-2019

After an unexpected enrollment drop last fall played a big role in the Newberg School District making significant cuts to both the 2017-2018 and current school year budgets, many in the community have been anxiously awaiting to see if the district would lose students again in 2018-2019.

And while the district won't perform its official count until Oct. 1, district officials announced a preliminary fall membership count shows enrollment dropped by 122 from 5,074 on Oct. 1, 2017 to 4,952 on Sept. 13.

The decrease, however, was neither unexpected and, if it holds, won't spur any immediate cuts, as the recent count is still 26 higher than the 4,926 figure upon which the district built the current budget.

"Any time you have a loss in numbers that makes you truly evaluate what you have in your budget, but I think the fact that the budget was set at a number below where we are, using the lowest of the (Portland State University) numbers, I think that was a smart way to do it," interim superintendent Joe Morelock said.

There are several other figures and numerous factors for the district to consider in evaluating both the projection and the official fall membership figure that will be set Oct. 1, which will then be submitted to the state.

That includes a difference of 41 students between the graduating class of 2018 (380) and the incoming kindergarten class this fall (339) that the district was anticipating.

In his statement, Morelock was referring to a comprehensive enrollment study the district requested from PSU last spring and the administration's decision to be conservative in creating the budget around the low end of that projection.

Morelock said the enrollment figures typically fluctuate throughout the year, noting that as of June 1 the district's enrollment had already fallen to 5,017, but that school officials have been contacting families they find out will not be back to learn and record why they left. That was also done in the immediate aftermath of the unexpected drop last year, with district identifying the rising cost of living in Newberg as the primary reason, but the effort this year has been more systematic.

"We don't get a hold of everybody, but we are trying to keep much better track on what we can find out, if people are moving to a different school in Oregon or moving out of state," Morelock said. "We have certain students who we never hear from again and other ones still that we'll find out where they went after a records request is made when they start new school somewhere else. There are some who never ask for records and just move on."

Morelock said he will present an analysis of the reasons why families left to the board after the official figure is established, most likely at the Oct. 22 meeting.

"We're keeping kind of a central spreadsheet of all the reason codes because there is an official reason code that we have to report so they don't show up as dropouts," Morelock said. "Along with that, we're trying to find all students and figure out is there a pattern? Are we having an enrollment slide over time? We'll figure that out."

Morelock said that coming in above the budget projection on the preliminary count Sept. 13 is certainly positive news because an additional 26 will provide a decent cushion this school year, but there will still be plenty of work to do when it comes time to form the 2019-2020 budget next spring.

"Our budget this year is whole, but we have several things coming on the horizon, as without significant changes our PERS numbers will also be challenging," Morelock said. "That's going to be a big one and we'll have to go through some more budget work to be ready for the following year."

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