PCSD shuffles resources to meet enrollment
As the load of students in the Park City School District continues to grow each year, so does the task the district faces of making accommodations for all of them.
At no point is that more challenging than the beginning of the school year, when the district must reconcile its resources with the number of students filling its classrooms.
The last two years have been particularly difficult for the district. It experienced growth of more than 200 students last year, and though hard numbers are not yet available for this year, the district was expecting more than 100 additional students.
Before school starts, predicting how many students will attend district schools is a bit of a guessing game. And this year, the number of students registered surpassed projections at some schools, meaning resources at those schools are stretched thin. And they will be until the district can analyze its official student tally, which was taken Sept. 4.
District Business Administrator Todd Hauber said that until those numbers are analyzed, the district utilizes an all-hands-on-deck approach.
"For right now, we work with the teachers that we have on staff," Hauber said. "We bring the kids in and we make it work as best we can. Make it work is, ‘We still have a chair in this room. We’ll put you there.’"
As the district examines its official student count — where it will see how many students are actually filling its classrooms compared to the number who registered — it can then begin to shift resources.
"We’ll go through and look at how those classes are lining up," Hauber said. "How many teachers do we have? How many kids in each of those classes? Are there ways to reshuffle or realign? You look at all the different combinations and see what makes sense and what doesn’t make sense and go from there."
Last year, that meant hiring more teachers, Hauber said.
"Last year was significant because it was 200 more students. It was ‘Oh man,’" Hauber said. "It wasn’t like 10 here, 10 there. It was 20 here and 20 there, and we dipped into our fund balance to make that work, because even the state didn’t support what was happening with the growth."
Some schools have been hit harder than others. For instance, 769 students were projected to attend Ecker Hill Middle School this year, but 808 students registered, according to information presented at the Aug. 19 Park City Board of Education meeting. But Hauber said hiring additional staff this year may not be an option.
"We all understand there’s frustrations, but at this juncture it’s very cooperative," Hauber said. "We’re getting the information we need, and the principals are helping the teachers balance out the load as it sits right now."
The district will make staffing changes based on its own enrollment calculations taken in early September because waiting another month for the state’s official tally used for funding purposes is not practical. Hauber said that means the district must sometimes add resources before funding based on the state’s tally, which is set to be taken Oct. 1, is guaranteed.
"Oct. 1 just confirms that we have more students than projected, and we’ll get more money from the state," Hauber said. "So hiring additional teachers is funded, as opposed to having to go back in and redo something within the existing budgets."
As enrollment numbers in the district continue to rise, further stretching resources, many in the community are concerned about out-of-district enrollees. Per the state’s open enrollment law, which gives parents the right to send their students to any public school in the state, no school in the district can turn away out-of-bounds students unless it has reached its enrollment threshold — essentially "closing" that school.
A common concern voiced by residents in a public Truth of Taxation meeting held Sept. 2 to discuss a property tax increase was that out-of-district students — whose parents aren’t paying property taxes to help fund the district — can push up the district’s enrollment numbers. The district maintains the tax increase is crucial to keep up with the rising student load, and the School Board voted to pass the tax in a meeting on Sept. 4.
Hauber acknowledged that some students travel from long distances to attend Park City schools but said many out-of-district students live nearby.
"The people right on the borders know what the education experience is," he said, noting Parley’s Park Elementary School and Trailside Elementary are the only schools in the district currently closed. "The reputation brought them into the housing that they chose — it just happened to be out of the (school district boundaries). I think when they bought the houses, in many cases they fully thought they were in the border."
Hauber said the quality education the district offers is what’s driving out-of-bounds students to its schools.
"That’s not part of the agenda," he said. "It’s a byproduct of being the best that we can for the people who do live here. Word of mouth gets out but we’re not advertising."
Student enrollment data provided by PCSD
Parley’s Park Elementary
Jeremy Ranch Elementary
Treasure Mountain Junior High
Ecker Hill Middle School
Park City High School
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A Trailside resident, and Snyderville Basin Planning Commission member, launched a write-in campaign for the Park City Board of Education hoping to “get the trust of the community back.”