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August 22, 2014

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School district sees enrollment decline of 1,667 students

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The Clark County School District is seeing its first enrollment decline in more than a quarter-century, education officials announced today.

As of Friday, the official “count day” used by the state to determine per-pupil funding for public schools, Clark County had 309,573 students.

That’s a decrease of 1,667 students from the official enrollment for the 2008-09 academic year, and more than 4,000 students below projections for this year.

However, district officials were quick to point out that by conservatively staffing schools at 97 percent of the projected enrollment, coupled with $120 million in budget cuts and holding some vacancies open, layoffs are not expected to be necessary.

When asked to comment on when he expected enrollment growth to rebound, Clark County Schools Superintendent Walt Rulffes said “I’m not going to take a shot at that.”

At the same time, he defended the district’s enrollment projections, saying “We don’t have anything to apologize for … our enrollment projections have always come within 1 percent.”

The district relies on a complicated matrix, which includes local birth statistics and input from county and state demographers, to build its projections.

The sharpest decline this year was among elementary school students living in the east region of Las Vegas. That correlates to the many families living in those neighborhoods that were known to have worked in construction and hospitality jobs, both of which suffered significant losses.

The district hired 688 new teachers for the 2009-10 academic year, and has 340 classroom vacancies. The district also has 125 vacancies for special education teachers and 75 vacancies for specialists.

Thanks to a provision in state statute, the district this year will receive the same amount of state funding it received last year when it had 311,240 students.

Districts won’t know how many students they will receive funding for until October when the “count day” numbers are audited and verified by the Nevada Education Department. But because employee contracts are finalized months earlier, state statute includes a “hold harmless” provision intended to give districts a “soft landing” and more time to prepare for loss of funding.

In anticipation of slower enrollment growth, the district moved 17 elementary schools to nine-month schedules from year-round calendars. More schools are expected to make the switch for the 2010-11 academic year.

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