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Kindergarten sees bump

Two elementary schools in The Dalles are coping with 60 more kindergarteners than projected, the school board heard at its Thursday, Sept. 12 meeting.

To understand what a big anomaly this is, the school district got just 18 more students in the other 12 grades combined, or an average of 1.5 students per grade, said Randy Anderson, chief financial officer for North Wasco County School District 21.

The unexpected “bubble” affects Chenowith and Colonel Wright elementary schools. Chenowith got 40 of the 60 new children, and now has 95 kindergarteners.

Col. Wright got 20 extra kindergarteners, making a new total of 95. Dry Hollow Elementary did not get more kindergarteners than it had last year. It has 100 kindergarteners.

The bubble has meant a raft of staffing changes and additions for the district.

A music teacher at Chenowith was switched to teaching kindergarten. A new half-time music teacher will be hired as a replacement, and a full-time kindergarten assistant will also be hired soon.

Two teachers were job-sharing a full-time kindergarten teaching post at Dry Hollow. One agreed to go full-time at Dry Hollow, and the other agreed to move over to Col. Wright as a part-time teacher there.

Year-on-year growth for the school district is “frankly, pretty modest,” Anderson said. “It’s about eight-tenths of one percent and one percent is 30 kids, so it’s about 30 kids for 13 grades, and now we’re up 78.”

But Anderson welcomes this dilemma. “I tell you, it would be disastrous if it were the other way. If 60 didn’t show up, we’d have different issues. There’s much worse issues than growth.”

The school district does what it can to learn approximately how many kindergarteners will enroll. It talks to local pre-schools and daycare providers, and to Head Start, and Early Intervention. It also has a “kindergarten roundup” in the spring to count noses.

But it’s not foolproof, as they learned this fall.

“Who knew that we were going to get 60 extra kindergarten kids?” Anderson said.

District Supt. Candy Armstrong said the district also relies on past numbers, which has typically been a good indicator, since there usually aren’t big increases or decreases in enrollment.

The school district gets paid based on enrollment, but it won’t be able to send figures to the state reflecting this bump in students until December. It will start getting increased payments by Jan. 1 but still get a full year’s worth of payments over the last half of the fiscal year, Anderson said.

The allocation from the state is about $6,800 per child, but kindergarteners are considered half-time students — even if they are full-time kindergarteners, as was started at Chenowith this fall.

So, the 60 new kindergarteners will count for 30 full-time students, or around $204,000.

The last large class was the class of 2010. It presents a challenge each year such large classes move up to a new school, Armstrong said.

While bubbles like this present a problem of one sort, another issue that’s brewing is a trend for larger classes at Dry Hollow – which ironically did not receive any of the “bubble” kindergarteners.

Each year, more and more students are enrolling there, Armstrong said. It has 80 third graders, 78 fourth graders and 83 fifth graders.

But, right now, they have 100 kindergarteners, 91 first graders and 106 second graders.

“Now that’s not a bubble, that’s a trend,” Armstrong said. “And that’s a trend that’s really stretching the resources of that building.”

“Just having a space to put the children is really needed, they’re way at capacity at Dry Hollow. So our concern, our plan, we’ve rolled out full-day kindergarten at Chenowith and it’s had its own bumps. Next year we’ll be rolling out at Col. Wright but I’ll tell you, it’s going to be a challenge when we roll it out at Dry Hollow,” she said.

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