Enrollment changes signal change in schools

A continuing decline in enrollment is resulting in several adjustments in the San Juan School District staff and administration. As the number of students falls, the number of employees will also fall. In addition, the funding for several special grant programs may also be in jeopardy.

Enrollment in district schools has fallen steadily over recent years, from a high of 3,449 in 1998 to 2,845 in the current school year.

“In order to stay fiscally responsible to the taxpayers, it is essential that we keep our staffing and budgets in line,” said Superintendent Doug Wright. “We felt we had to make cuts at the district level and at the school level.”

The schools carefully watch student-teacher ratios and make adjustments as enrollment figures change. That will be evident at Monticello High School, which will have two fewer teachers in the coming school year.

Monticello High has been staffed for a school with 300 students, but there have been just 256 students enrolled this year. Changes will be made to the English and Vocational Ed programs.

Monticello High School Principal Scott Shakespeare says that the cuts were painful but that the school will still offer the full range of required courses.

There will also be changes at Monument Valley High School, which has been staffed for 234 students, but currently has an enrollment of 196. For the coming school year, there will be 1.5 fewer positions at the school.

Less dramatic changes also will be made at Albert R Lyman Middle School in Blanding and Whitehorse High School.

A number of state and federal programs may have decreased funding levels in the coming school year, including Title I, At Risk, Homeless, Gang and Tobacco programs. The school district is carefully monitoring the funding issues and is working to avoid staffing changes, if possible, for the coming school year.

There will be several changes in administration at the district level, triggered by the retirement of Federal Programs coordinator Toni Turk.

Ron Nielson, who has served as supervisor of elementary schools, will become the supervisor of instruction in all schools. Lynette Johnson, who has served as supervisor of secondary schools, will provide program support for the schools, including many of the state and federal programs previously managed by Turk. Special Education director Tony Done will assume the Assessment Director duties previously managed by Turk.

While many areas of San Juan County appear to be experiencing growth, there has yet to be a corresponding increase in enrollment.

However, one area of San Juan County is experiencing significant growth. Students from the Spanish Valley area, south of Moab but in San Juan County, primarily attend schools in the Grand School District. Representatives from the Grand District met with the San Juan School Board on May 9 to address long-range planning in Spanish Valley.

The number of Spanish Valley students attending school in Moab has grown by 48 percent in the past four years, from 87 in 2004 to 129 this school year.

San Juan School officials stated that they intend to continue the current arrangement for the foreseeable future, particularly with middle and high school students. Grand School officials stated that they own land on the Grand County side of the county line which they may consider for a school if enrollment from the area continues to grow.

While there will be fewer teachers and administrators in the district in the coming year, those who remain will earn a significant salary increase. School officials and the San Juan educators are finalizing a contract that is highlighted by a $2,500 gross salary increase for educators. A ten percent increase in health insurance rates and the corresponding increase in payroll tax and benefits will bring the total cost of the $2,500 raise to more than $3,100.

State legislators did not budget for the full amount, but districts will offer the full salary increase, with the assumption that the shortfall will be funded in the next legislative session.

In addition to the salary increase, the legislature approved a $1,000 one-time bonus for teachers. The overall increase in funding means that teacher salaries will increase between four and seven percent in the coming year, while classified employee salaries will increase approximately three percent and administrative salaries will increase approximately 2.5 percent.

At a May 9 budget hearing, district business manager Clayton Holt outlined issues impacting the upcoming budget. Holt said it is anticipated that the assessed value of San Juan County properties will increase $45 million in the coming year, from $587 million in 2006 to $632 million this year.

Ten retiring employees of the San Juan School District were honored at the May 9 board meeting, including Toni Turk, Linda Shumway, James Muhlestein, Janet Bradford, Marvin Johnson, Jed Lyman, Alice Norton, Layne Livingston, Helen Howard, and Gaylen Schaugaard. The ten retiring employees had put in nearly 288 years of service to the district and its students.

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