School funding artwork
Enrollment declines in the Philomath School District could equate to a budgetary loss in the neighborhood of $750,000. (Photo by Getty Images)

The Philomath School District is experiencing a significant decline in enrollment. That’s not unique to Philomath with districts across the state finding themselves in the same situation as the COVID-19 pandemic drags on and distance learning continues.

In other areas of the state, the majority of the enrollment declines have occurred among the younger grades with virtual charter schools and home-schooling becoming preferred options for some parents.

Dropping enrollment means less funding and it’s a concern for the Philomath School District.

For the period ending Oct. 31, the district’s full-time enrollment stood at 126 fewer students than the previous year. Enrollment was down 115 at the high school, 80 at the elementary school, 80 at the middle school, 36 at the primary school and five at Blodgett.

Philomath Academy — which is in its first year — has 190 enrolled to offset some of those losses. The district in total had 1,514 full-time students at the end of October.

The state uses a formula to provide financial equity among school districts. One of the calculations that comes into play to determine per-student allocations involves a district’s average daily membership, or ADM.

Overall, education funding includes money from state income taxes, the lottery fund, local revenue through property taxes and federal funds.

Philomath’s falling enrollment suggests a budgetary drop of an estimated $750,000, Director of Finance and Operations Bill Mancuso told the school board last month.

“One of the things that we’re working with ODE (Oregon Department of Education) on is to get them to talk to the folks at the state level to find some way to give districts some relief in regard to the State School Fund in terms of their ADM numbers,” Mancuso said. “It’s a long shot, but maybe we can get them to put a halt or freeze on ADM so the districts aren’t hurt too bad next year if this continues into next year.”

School board member Jim Kildea at the November meeting made a point to discount assumptions that he’s heard from some people who believe the district is doing just fine financially through this extended pandemic.

“The fact of the matter is the vast majority of our funding comes from school enrollment,” Kildea said. “With numbers down like this, we’re down $600,000, $750,000 — a lot of money. And it’s coming from a state that has no state sales tax … so it’s going to be a long time before we recover.”

Salaries and benefits account for the majority of a school district’s expenses, Kildea said.

“My point is if you look across the board, companies everywhere are conserving cash because they don’t know how long this is going to last and how they’re going to have to endure and what’s going to happen with the revenue,” Kildea said. “And we’re in the same boat.”

Immediate impacts have not been seen, Mancuso said, but future revenue projections are taking a hit.

“Right now, the state, they’re working on the projections for the next biennium’s funding for our State School Fund because the Legislature will start to meet in January,” Mancuso said. “What ODE is asking for is relatively flat funding and what that means is the same amount that we got this year.

“On the surface, you might think, well that’s pretty good, the same amount, but the reality is that does not account for cost-of-living increases and all of the costs that go up,” he added. “So if you get the same amount of money but your costs are increasing, you’re in essence losing money. So we have to be prepared for that.”

The situation evolves from day-to-day.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen with the Legislature this spring in terms of funding for K-12 education,” Mancuso said. “We’ll just have to keep our eyes and ears open.”

In the meantime, school districts hope to see enrollment numbers rebound once students are allowed back in classrooms.