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K-12 enrollment up countywide, except for Medford

Washington Elementary School planned for 487 students this year, but as of Monday, 418 were enrolled.

Washington Principal Sallie Johnson calls it “a blessing in disguise,” since fewer students mean smaller class sizes.

However, she’s counting on more students trickling in later this fall so she won’t have to reduce her staff.

“Our numbers were so low in kindergarten and first grade, we could have easily lost a teacher,” she said. “But Title 1 schools historically start low and then, by the end of the first month, reach the grade level expectations.

“Today, we had four new kids enroll,” she said Tuesday.

Enrollment at eight of Medford’s 14 elementary schools fell short of enrollment projections, and districtwide enrollment in noncharter schools was 186 students less than projected.

“I would contribute a good portion of that (decrease) to adding kindergarten and fourth grade at VIBES (now Kids Unlimited Academy Public Charter School),” said Medford Superintendent Brian Shumate. “Enrollment at Logos and Madrone Trail (charter schools) also has gone up.”

As of Monday, Medford charter school enrollment had exceeded projections by 130 students.

Since enrollment plays into state funding, Medford’s funding could be reduced by $1 million to $2 million if enrollment didn't pick up in the coming months, said Brad Earl, the district’s chief financial officer.

“For most of the year, we’ll be funded based on the projections, but around April, they do a true-up where they look at statewide enrollment and our district’s enrollment and adjust our funding either up or down,” Earl said. “If our current trend continues, the adjustment will be to lower our final payment.”

“But we don’t lose money tomorrow,” Shumate said.

The new superintendent wants to increase the district’s marketing efforts and re-examine its programming to “meet every kid’s need.”

“We need to make sure our schools are attractive so parents and students don’t want to leave,” he said.

Julie Evans, director of elementary education, said she budgeted for about five positions she hasn’t filled.

“I waited to hire until we saw who showed up and where,” she said.

Evans is evaluating classroom sizes, which currently range from 18 to 36 students, to determine where she needs to assign additional staffing.

Medford’s middle school enrollment Monday was down 89 students from September 2013, but its high school enrollment was up by 23 students.

Todd Bloomquist, director of secondary education, said this variance is owed to a large outgoing eighth-grade class — now freshmen — and small incoming seventh-grade class.

The largest class this semester at North Medford High School is economics, which averages about 37 students, while the largest class at South Medford High School is pre-calculus, which averages about 34 students.

“We’d like to see averages of 30 to 32, except for interventions, which we intentionally keep small,” Bloomquist said.

While Medford’s noncharter enrollment came up short of projections and last year’s numbers, enrollment in neighboring districts has increased.

Eagle Point had 56 more students Monday than it did last September and was forced to hire two additional kindergarten teachers to meet the demand for its full-day kindergarten, which debuted this year.

The Phoenix-Talent School District is up 30 students from last year, and had to hire additional teachers at Orchard Hill and Phoenix elementary schools, said David Marshall, the district’s business manager.

“It was obvious in the first week that those two elementary schools were getting more kids than we had staff for,” he said.

Ashland and Central Point also enjoyed a slight bump of 16 and 18 students, respectively.

The Rogue River School District grew by about 17 students since the last school year ended, said Superintendent Paul Young.

"We've been in a downward trend for a period of time, so going up from going down is a great change for us,” he said.

Reach reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.