Enrollment continues to drop in schools

The number of students in the San Juan School District continues a multi-year trend of decreasing enrollment, according to recently-released October 1 counts.
Total enrollment fell from 2,953 on October 1, 2009 to 2,912 this school year, a loss of roughly 1.5 percent. In total, enrollment has dropped by 15.7 percent since reaching a high of 3,370 in 1996.
The drop in enrollment extends across the sprawling district, ranging from a 44.4 percent drop since 1996 at Bluff Elementary, to a 9.7 percent drop in just one year at Montezuma Creek Elementary.
Enrollment increased in the past year at Mexican Hat Elementary, Monument Valley Elementary, Bluff Elementary and San Juan High schools. (See the chart below for more details.)
The demographic profile of district students includes more than 53 percent of students who have Native American heritage and 44.6 percent of students who have Anglo heritage.
The number of students who qualify for free school lunch totals 1,597, with an additional 234 who qualify for reduced-priced school lunch. The number of students who are designated as English Language learners totals 711 and a total of 844 students are designated as having Limited English Proficiency.
There are 835 students in the San Juan School District who are designated as homeless. In total, 1,383 students in the district are designated as Disadvantaged Minority because they are economically disadvantaged and from an ethnic minority.
In other matters at an October 20 meeting, the San Juan School Board approved an adjustment in the school district boundary in the Spanish Valley area.
Approximately 140 students from San Juan County attend schools in Grand County, the majority from the immediate Spanish Valley area. In an attempt to give the parents of these students a voice in the education of their children, areas in Spanish Valley will move to the Grand School District on January 1, 2011.
The boundary adjustment does not include large areas of northern San Juan County, including Pack Creek Range, Flat Iron Mesa and other developments.
Construction is ongoing at the new Tsebii’nidzisgai Elementary School at Monument Valley, adjacent to Monument Valley High School. Completion of the $10 million project is expected for the start of school in 2011. The school will replace the aging facility at Mexican Hat.
In addition to the new school, seven new homes are being built to house faculty. The school district is negotiating with possible buyers of the existing teacher housing at the Mexican Hat school. The new housing project is valued at approximately $1.5 million, with the infrastructure for an additional seven homes.
The district is paying for the capital projects with reserves and through a voted leeway, approved by voters in 2006, which generates approximately $2 million each year. The voted leeway funding, in which local property taxes are roughly matched by state funds, is allowing the school district to complete a series of capital projects throughout the district.
In addition to their use in the new school and housing projects, funds generated by the voted leeway were used to remodel the Zenos L Black building at San Juan High School in Blanding, and to install new heating, cooling, lighting, fire alarm and insulation systems at Whitehorse High School.
Looking ahead, the district has outlined a rough timeframe for a series of capital projects throughout the district. The projects are listed in the chart on page 2.
A number of projects will be completed in the Monument Valley area this summer, primarily because the work crews and infrastructure (including a cement batch plant) are already there for the existing projects.
“We are trying to get the most for the taxpayers’ dollars,” said District Business Manager Clayton Holt. The goal is to complete as much as possible while construction costs are low. Changing conditions may impact the timeframe and budget for the projects.
A new position was approved to help coordinate the capital projects. District officials explain that the existing facilities staff was beginning to fall behind because of the increased workload created by the capital projects. Funding for the new position will be paid by the voted leeway.
The district received the results of the annual audit by Smuin, Rich and Marsing. Greg Marsing said that the school district is in a “very strong” financial position and capable of supporting the capital projects, “San Juan is probably the only district in the state that is debt free,” said Marsing. “That puts you in a very strong position.”
Capital projects will be paid with no debt or debt-servicing costs. Marsing said the district has not used the accounting practices that resulted in significant challenges for the Grand School District.

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