Melissa deVita, BSD’s Deputy Superintendent of Finance and Operations continues the Planning for the Future series by sharing the impacts of lower enrollment at our elementary schools. She includes details about how school finances work, where money is spent, the impact of enrollment declines, and some strategies the district can use to address these declines.
Planning for the Future: Impact of Lower Enrollment 1/20/23
Navigate the video topics using these time stamps:
- 1:02 – General fund spending
- 2:52 – How funding is allocated
- 3:30 – Financial impact of enrollment declines
- 5:20 – Elementary annual cost per pupil and state funding model
- 6:51 – Options to consider
- Cutting staffing and services
- -OR- consolidating schools into a more average school size for elementary schools to maintain the same level of services available at all larger elementary schools
- 7:46 – Strategies to address impacts
- 9:41 – Building elementary school communities
- 11:01 – Enrollment trends at Eastgate, Woodridge, Wilburton, Enatai, Sherwood Forest, Ardmore and Phantom Lake
Share Your Feedback
The BSD learning community has several opportunities to engage with the district as we move through the planning process as we work to address declining enrollment. Current opportunities include:
Community Open Houses
The district will hold a series of community open houses at the seven schools with potential impacts (Ardmore, Eastgate, Enatai, Phantom Lake, Sherwood Forest, Wilburton, Woodridge). These engagement opportunities provide stakeholders an opportunity to share with staff the impact on their individual school communities. Families at the seven schools received an invitation to attend community open houses January 23-27, 2023.
Public Comment at Regular School Board Meetings
The Bellevue School District School Board has extended time for Public Comment at their next Regular Board meeting, Thursday, January 26, 2023, to encourage feedback on declining enrollment and potential impacts. Please see Public Comment information on how to share your thoughts with the Board.
The community is invited to continue to provide their feedback, input and suggestions through the district’s Let’s Talk platform. Please use the “Planning for the Future” button to share feedback on this topic.
For the past several months the Bellevue School District has regularly shared information with our learning community about the enrollment challenges the district is projected to experience. Prior communications with context around this topic include:
Good afternoon, My name is Melissa deVita and I’m the Deputy Superintendent of Finance and Operations for the Bellevue School District. Thank you for watching this video and for your ongoing interest in our school district. This is the third in a series of presentations that I’ve given regarding the future of our district and the planning that we have been doing for it. Today I’d like to provide you with more information regarding how our school finances work and where our money is spent, the impact of enrollment declines, and some of the strategies we will be using to address these declines. Finally, I’d like to show you the enrollment forecast for the seven schools that we are looking at and considering for consolidation.
Our total general fund budget for our schools this year is 388 million dollars. Our general fund is like your checking account. It’s what we use to pay for our daily operations. 88 percent of our general fund expenditures are targeted for students and their schools. Teaching students and supporting students does make up the largest portion of these expenses and student support includes things like the paraeducators and the general school assistants in our buildings. And it includes other support provided by staff members in the school buildings but not necessarily in a classroom on a daily basis. The remaining 12 percent of our budget is spent on curriculum including curriculum materials that are provided to schools in in their school buildings, teaching support such as coaches, mentors, and professional development, and district administration. The total spent on district administration is 16 million dollars annually. And this is not only for district leadership but also includes key functions of the district like human resources, accounting, budget development, and payroll. Our goal is to continue to improve the efficiency of these functions but we cannot fully eliminate them as we move forward. In the past two years, we have taken out a million dollars from the district functions and we will continue to look for opportunities to reduce in this area. However, the impact of the lost revenue due to enrollment declines cannot be found just in district functions and will, unfortunately, also impact our students and schools. We can also look at our spending in other ways. Schools are a people business and, as expected, we spend the majority of our operating funds on people — 84 percent. This includes both salaries and benefits. The other 16 percent is spent on materials and supplies used in our school buildings and outside purchase services, which are generally for legal fees, auditor fees, and other consulting fees where we need some additional expertise but it’s not worth developing that expertise internally — such as our demographer.
Enrollment drives school district revenue and I’ve been stating that for a while now. 80 percent of our operating revenue is driven by our enrollment. For every 100 students that we have we receive about 1.3 million dollars. So when we lose 100 students we lose 1.3 million dollars in revenue. And that is equivalent to what it costs us for nine full-time staff members. Over the past three years the drop of nearly 1,900 students could have impacted our revenue by 20 million dollars. But for the past two years, the state has provided us with hold harmless revenue, meaning that they have been using our pre-pandemic enrollment to calculate the revenue that we would receive from both the state and our local Levy. So we have not yet felt the impact of these enrollment drops. In addition, we have been receiving elementary and secondary school emergency funds, more commonly known as Esser funds, from the federal government. However, moving forward, the state will no longer provide the whole harmless funds and revenue and that will be disappearing in the 23-24 school year. And our Esser funds we have planned to spend not only next school year but then we’ll be gone in the 24-25 school year.
So now is the time for us to figure out the best way to reduce our operating expenses. Now I know some of you are probably wondering why are we just looking at elementary schools and we are just looking at elementary schools this year. And that’s because 70 percent of this loss of enrollment was at our elementary schools. We plan on looking at our secondary schools as we move into our next school year.
The cost of running our schools on a per pupil basis very significantly depending upon the size of our schools. On this graph, all 18 of our elementary schools and their cost per student is depicted as well. For our smaller schools that costs can be as high as just over fifteen thousand dollars per student. But for our larger schools, it drops to seven thousand dollars per student. And this relationship is evident in this graph. We currently have the same fixed costs at every school, no matter what the size — a principal, an assistant principal, a teacher leader, a librarian, a full-time counselor, the building utilities, the custodial staff, grounds and building maintenance. And so it’s easy to see why as enrollment drops cost per pupil increases. The state provides our funding based upon a prototypical school model. And what that means is that they calculate what they would expect the cost to be of running a 400 student elementary school. And then they divide that by the 400 students and come up with a cost per student. And then multiply that by our elementary enrollment to figure out how much we would receive in funding. So as our enrollment in our elementary schools drop, we do not receive enough funding from the state to support these schools and we must supplement it with funding from other places. Now we do have some options because we could cut services and staffing in these schools. We could have a halftime librarian, a half-time counselor, halftime school administration. Or we can look at consolidating these schools into a more average school size for elementary schools and then maintain the same level of services that are available at all of our larger elementary schools. The question really comes down to: “What is the priority in our school district?” Is it the location of the school building or the services our students receive when they arrive at school? We cannot keep the same service levels in all of our schools if we keep the same number of elementary schools that we currently have and allow our enrollment to drop down as low as 200 students per school.
So we’ve been looking at different strategies for a while now. We’ve been considering a number of different things. We could address our lower enrollment by remaining status quo with the same number of schools. We could wait and see if enrollment is really going to continue to decline and how long should we wait. But if we adopt these strategies then we need to begin cutting staff and services at our schools and throughout the district. As we do that, some parents could decide to pull their students because they are not receiving the services that they were in the past. And they could decide to homeschool, go to a neighboring school district, or go to a private school. And as these students leave then our enrollment will continue to decline and we will need to cut more services. This becomes a downward spiral that is harder and harder to break away from. It’s really a contraction strategy. Or we can go in another direction aimed at maintaining and improving our educational opportunities for students. We can right size our district, which means having the right number of elementary school facilities needed to support the number of students that we have. We can invest then in innovative programming and opportunities for our students, rather than fueling funneling money into under enrolled schools. We can attract students from private schools, homeschooling, and other districts rather than losing students to those other educational options. And this direction this is the direction that we would like to head in — to right size our district, have open enrollment, provide innovative programming, and targeted spending on the things that have the greatest impact on our students and their success.
I know that this is hard work. I realize many people will be impacted. But our goal from this is to provide the best services supports and programs to all elementary students and not um have them impacted just because they’re in a smaller school than others. Enrollment drops will result in more multi-grade classrooms. If some of our schools go down to the forecasted number of 200 students, students will be in multi-grade classrooms for the majority of their elementary years.
It will result in our inability to fully staff our supports in all of our schools. And our specialty staff will be going to multiple buildings and spending a lot of time in their cars instead of adding value to our students. And our ability to invest in Innovative programming moving forward will be very limited because we are again investing in lower enrollment schools. We have a decision to make regarding what kind of district we want over the next 10 years. And that needs to be our focus today and as we move forward into the next couple of years.
I’d like to show you where enrollment is forecasted to go for some of the schools that we are looking at for consolidation. So, this is Eastgate Elementary. The historical years are on the left, going from 2015 to the current school year of 2023. And then moving forward on the right are the school years with the forecasted numbers. Basically, right now what we are looking at is the potential of Eastgate Elementary dropping down to 200 students over the next five years. Even if we think we’re going to get 10 percent more students than depicted in this graph, that would still only put Eastgate Elementary at 223 students, rather than the 203, which is not enough to maintain a full set of services for all of our students at that school. Woodridge Elementary is looking at some of the same impacts dropping to 240 students over the next five years.
Wilburton again dropping to just about 285 students over the next five years. And this story repeats for Enatai and for Sherwood Forestand for Ardmore Elementary.
Now Phantom Lake is a bit different. Phantom Lake it does not show forecast of declining enrollment. But Phantom lake has historically been the lowest District the lowest enrollment school in our district, hovering right around or above 330 to 350 students. And they have been at this level at this lowest up until this year, the 2022 school year. Going forward, they’re not forecasted to grow. They’re forecasted to remain relatively flat as well. And so that’s why we are looking at them as another option for either consolidation or bringing in programs or other students to their school. Thank you for taking the time to listen to this video. We will continue to share information moving forward and would appreciate your inputs through Let’s Talk on our website. Have a great day.