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Medford enrollment to drop

School district faces reality that fewer students means fewer state dollars in future budgets

Citing an aging population and more households without children, the Medford School District expects a worrisome enrollment decline for the next five years.

In 2008, enrollment is estimated at 12,439, compared to 13,074 in 2002, a five percent drop.

Judy Barmack, a Portland demographer who made the projections for the district, said, I work with many different school districts across the state and there is much less growth than there used to be.

Less growth translates into fewer dollars for schools, which receive funding depending on the number of students enrolled.

In Medford, this would mean more than &

36;3 million less income from the state in a district already hard hit by budget problems.

— It also means a potentially tougher sell to voters if the district decides to put a bond measure for new schools on the ballot again.

School board member Joe Frodsham thought the district could still convince voters that a new middle school is needed, but not ask for a skill center.

But school board member Cynthia Wright responded, Even with our demographics going down?

Medford superintendent Dick Gregory told the school board at a meeting Tuesday night that it would cost &

36;1.5 million to equip a new middle school, which would be difficult to raise because of budget constraints..

Enrollment, which has already dropped 220 students to 12,854 this year, will slowly decline another 415 students, according to the Barmack study.

Much of the decline will be in the elementary and middle-school grades, while high school numbers will remain relatively flat.

Some reasons cited for the decline include parent concern over a shortened school year, leading to slight increases in home-schooling and private education.

Barmack also cited recent budget cutbacks as influencing the decision among parents toward alternative education.

A sagging regional economy and fewer people moving to Oregon from other states are also part of the problem, Barmack determined.

Migration to Oregon is less than half of what it was in 1997.

In her report, she stated, The tarnishing of the state's image may be influencing the decisions of families and businesses considering Oregon locations.

In contrast, Barmack said In Clark County, Wash. it is going gangbusters.

Parents are moving from Oregon because they are concerned over program reductions in public schools as well as this state's tax system.

Despite the downturn, other factors are preventing an even sharper decline, including a larger Hispanic population, accelerated housing development, students transferring from other districts and the popularity of night high school.

Since 1993, the district's Hispanic population has accounted for 63 percent of the total enrollment growth.

Hispanics now account for 13.7 percent of total enrollment in the district.

Enrollment demographics Reasons for enrollment decline:

Aging population, more retirees.

Regional economy lagging the nation.

Fewer people moving to Oregon from other states.

Shortened school years, which make home schooling and private education more attractive to parents.

High housing costs, which force younger families into less expensive communities.

Factors limiting enrollment losses:

Hispanic population expanding.

Housing development accelerating.

Students from other districts enrolling in Medford.

Night high school helping secondary school growth.

' Source: Portland Demographer Judy Barmack

Kindergarten students in Susan Horton?s class at Lone Pine Elementary School start Tuesday afternoon?s class with the Pledge of Allegiance. A demographer?s report predicts enrollment will decline in the Medford School District over the next five years. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell - Mail Tribune Bob Pennell