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Unexpected enrollment drops giving school districts a harder time planning for future needs

Most school districts, even fast-growing ones, saw enrollments go down during the pandemic
Unexpected enrollment drops giving school districts a harder time planning for future needs
Posted at 5:44 PM, Feb 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-22 21:12:45-05

COLORADO SPRINGS — With most school districts--including historically fast growing-ones--seeing enrollment drops this year, uncertainty over future enrollment is giving leaders in those districts a tough time determining future needs.

If you’ve lived in Academy School District 20 for any amount of time, you’ve seen that new families just keep coming.

“We’ve really grown,” District 20 spokesperson Allison Cortez said. “I’ve been here almost five years. When I started here, I remember always writing down that we had 23,000 students, and now I always write we have 27,00 students.”

But as of late, things are a little different.

“It’s bizarre to see houses being built at rapid rates in our district, and yet student counts have plummeted this year,” Cortez said.

Despite all the new families moving in, D20’s enrollment dropped by about 1,000 students this school year.

“We’ve never had a decrease in probably like the last decade,” she said.

D20 isn't alone. most school districts have seen students seemingly disappear this year.

“Some folks have really decided to home school,” she said. “The other thing we noticed is our Kindergarten numbers were really, really down.”

And fewer students means fewer dollars coming in.

“We are down a thousand students. Each of our students--and I’m rounding up, brings with them roughly $800,” she said.

But thanks to a bond measure D20 voters passed in 2016, new schools will still be on the way for the next couple years, even if enrollment stays lower than expected.

Cortez said that's because Colorado law requires the $230 million in projects included in the bond measure to be completed in the time frame originally promised to voters, even if needs for those projects go away. She said the district has already completed about 75% of the projects paid for by the 2016 bond.

Because of the district’s rapid growth, D20 leaders were already looking toward future growth beyond what the 2016 bond provided.

“When we passed this bond, we were already thinking, when’s the next mill levy? When’s the next bond,” Cortez said.

But with enrollment trends anything but certain, the need for those new schools to come as quickly as new homes now no longer seems certain either.

“Now we’re going to have to see… does this pandemic have long-lasting effects that could move all of those timelines back?”