The Philomath School District plans to add two new teachers before the beginning of classes this fall in response to larger-than-anticipated kindergarten and fourth-grade classes, Superintendent of Schools Susan Halliday said.
“We’re seeing increases in enrollment that have altered some things significantly,” Halliday told the Philomath School Board Wednesday evening. “We have agreed to add a fourth-grade teacher, so we will now be back to four teachers in the fourth grade.”
Clemens Primary registered students Wednesday and Principal Abby Couture reported to Halliday that 95 kindergarteners and 85 first graders had been signed up. Halliday said the numbers warranted a fifth kindergarten class.
“As you know, there’s a priority to keep our primary classrooms especially smaller to be able to work with students in that way,” Halliday said.
Overall, K-12 enrollment numbers were still a little sketchy at mid-week with some unknowns as the registration process continued. But administrators are anxious to find out where the numbers land.
“It will be interesting to be able to see when we finally have overall enrollment numbers — the numbers of students who belong to us and the number of students who have come to us as interdistrict transfers,” Halliday said, adding that she’s signed a lot of transfer requests. “We’ve always said if we’ve got a need, we’re not going to cheat the kids … we’re going to figure it out and make sure that we can take care of business.”
Halliday said the new teachers have been hired and their names will appear for School Board approval at a Sept. 7 meeting.
To prepare for such a possibility, the school opened up a teacher pool in early August “to allow us to have the two weeks of required time to post the positions.” Through that strategy, the district could get teachers in place before classes begin, if the need would arise. And if no new teachers were needed, the district would simply tell those in the pool that its needs had been met.
Halliday clarified the situation with the extra teaching position added to the fourth grade. Toward the end of the last academic year, a fourth-grade teacher was moved out of necessity to the third grade.
“We actually moved that teacher back to the fourth-grade assignment that the individual had filled in prior years and the new individual will teach third grade,” Halliday said. “It’s making up the difference for the numbers but we shuffled some deck chairs a little bit.”
Also factoring in are a few interdistrict transfers involving “special education students that have some pretty high needs,” Halliday said. “That’s causing us to take a look at some of our instructional assistant needs as well.”
At Philomath High School, the incoming eighth-grade class exceeded the number of graduating seniors so enrollment has jumped from last year’s 440 to the current estimate of 490.
Despite the rising numbers and the potential for more students to be in classrooms in the coming years as local housing developments are completed, Halliday said enrollment figures are well under capacity — a concern that more than one School Board member expressed.
“Six years ago, there was a facilities study completed … in anticipation of the new housing developments that said ‘you will be overrun with children’ and we predicted high and all those kinds of things and we never saw them in the existing developments that have gone up,” Halliday said.
Enrollment numbers will be recalculated and submitted to the state Department of Education.
“We can’t guarantee until the end of the first quarter that they may or may not do anything with changing funding,” Halliday said. “It may happen earlier, but there’s a likelihood that it won’t.”
And there are no guarantees that the district will receive more funding because of the numbers.
“If every other district in the state is also seeing a rise in students like we are, the pocket of money from the state doesn’t change,” Halliday pointed out. “If we have risen but everybody else has also risen, it may not change the per-student funding … the pie is only so big and it depends on how that plays out.”
She then added, “That’s something we have to be aware of and try to understand how we can maneuver and piece things together.”
Business Manager Jennifer Griffith said later during her report to the board that impacts on Philomath’s State School Funds allocation won’t be known until the late fall.
“Our enrollment prediction process, I think, will be blown out of the water. … That said, we still have to live within what our allocations are for the beginning of the year until we know different,” she said.
Griffith said some funding gaps might narrow with more money reportedly coming in through the Student Investment Account grant allocation.
Sept. 5 will be the first day of school for second, sixth and ninth graders along with all Philomath Academy enrollees. Blodgett’s K-4 students will go for a half-day and Clemens Primary students will conduct student assessments.
Then on Sept. 6, students in all grades will be in school with the exception being a second day of student assessments at Clemens Primary. On Sept. 7, all students in all schools will be in class.
Said Halliday, “We’re ready to roll and kick things off.”