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Park City School District enrollment was down again this year

As we entered the 2020-pandemic-school-year, fear was palpable. If you had a kid in school, you probably worried about how they would social distance. Then we heard word from some teachers that their classes were packed. We heard there were more than 700 new kids at Park City Schools this year! It was going to be the end of the world!!

But the world did not end.

We learned that according to October 1 enrollment numbers, including both remote and in-person students, Park City had 69 fewer kids in our school district this year than last.

According to PCSD Superintendent, Jill Gidea, during the most recent School Board Meeting, Park City had 4,696 students enrolled in K-12.

Here is the tally:

Kindergarten: 244
1st: 311
2nd: 298
3rd: 320
4th: 335
5th: 356
6th: 402
7th: 364
8th: 414
9th: 404
10th: 419
11th: 422
12th: 407

Total: 4,696

This compares with 4,765 students enrolled on October 1, 2019. So, we went down by 69 students this year.

From a Covid perspective, this flies in the face of what we have been hearing. People are moving here in droves. So, why are our schools not burgeoning at the seams?

  • I hear people talking about the district not being truthful, but I don’t think the district is intentionally lowering numbers. They get state money for every kid. So, they would want to be biased to the upside — not the downside on enrollment.
  • Perhaps, the people buying houses don’t have kids. That would fit with the most-recent second homeowner stats where 2/3 of houses in PC and 1/3 of houses in the basin are second homes. Maybe the people moving in are older and looking for a respite fro the city.
  • Perhaps the families moving in are keeping their kids in remote-learning at their original schools in California, Texas, etc.
  • Perhaps Park City Day School and Judge are getting all the kids because the parents are used to paying for private school and Park City rankings aren’t so hot any more.

I don’t know what the reason is. But it is what it is. For now, in what seems like the largest inward migration of people to Park City since the silver rush of 1892, our schools have gone down in population. Again, the numbers include students doing remote-learning.

That said, Covid-19 is a transitory event. It too shall pass. So, let’s look at these enrollment numbers in context and figure out what they mean for us going forward. There was a time when enrollment in Park City Schools was going up. It appears that time has passed — for now.

In the numbers above, look at the number of students in 7th through 12th grade. That average number of students is 403 per grade. Look at the number of students in grades 1st through 6th. That average is 337. The difference between the two is 16%. That percentage difference will only become bigger unless we get an influx in younger grades.

To put it differently, the 12th grade has almost 100 more kids than the 1st grade has in it (25% more kids). If trends continue, the lower number of students in younger grades will eventually lead to fewer students throughout the system. If we took the current 1st through 4th grade class and compared it to the current number of high school kids (assuming 9th-12th grade) it would be 1,264 versus the 1,649 that are enrolled now. That’s almost a 25% drop.

Why is that? It’s most likely that most families with a child or two can’t afford a $1.5 million house. People who can put $300,000 down are few and far between, and when you have kids, that only becomes harder.

This has broad implications for what the district is planning with capital projects. In 2015 a $56 million bond failed. Now the Park City School Board has given the district the ability to tax residents without a bond for capital improvements. I’ve heard numbers upwards of $150 million to $200 million to tear down Treasure Mountain Junior High, expand the high school for 9th grade and expand Ecker Hill for 8th grade.

It’s a strange course of action when numbers are falling like this. We’ll have to ultimately see what the school district does, but it seems unconscionable if they don’t put a hundreds-of-million-dollar-expenditure out to the people for a vote in the face of this.

I think most of us would agree that some form of capital expenditure makes sense — like bringing the 9th grade into Park City High. We do want to provide a good education for our children.

However, if our hand isn’t forced by growth, and we want to spend money, aren’t there better places to put some of that money? Like teachers or internet for kids who don’t have it or after school programs or technology or helping our ELL students.

Imagine finding a way to take some of those hundreds of millions of tax dollars being proposed for buildings and funneling some of that to help our Park City schools have better than a 36% proficiency rate in math.

The truth is that the school district is not growing. Great. Let’s refocus and get better.

Comments

15 Comments

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Walt

Well, we can’t spend the money on teachers, though. We can only bond for capital projects/facilities (at least as I understand it). Our money for teachers/staff comes from the state pot (that we pay much more than most into) exclusively. We get around this to some extent by having PCEF pay for supplies and such so that we can funnel as much money to teachers as possible from the state funds, but there’s an upper limit there.

I guess there might be some way to build facilities that are set up to help ELL kids or something, but really I think it’s disingenuous to say we should be taxing to spend more money on the 3 R’s when our hands are basically tied there.

Also, a question – the district Covid dashboard lists 4845 students – about 150 more than in this article. Any idea what the discrepancy is? I’d guess preschool?

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Parkrag

Yeah, I should have made that clearer. You are right, it’s not like we can issue a bond for hiring teachers. However, I have faith in the Board, Super, and Todd Hauber that they could be creative. If I am paying more in taxes, I would like it to try and improve education… even if some of that money is distributed to other districts. I think brinigng 8th into the HS improves academic outomes. I definitely think pre-school can improve outcomes if its done in a way that works for those who need it most.

However, I think finding creative ways (and likely spending millions of dollars on it) to improve proficinecy in core subjects like math and english for all our kids is important too. I know its more complicated than I’ll state here, and I am the first to acknowledge that Treasure Mountain has its problems. However, if we spent took the $50-100 million dollars it may cost to tear down Treasure and add onto Ecker to support 8th grade and instead found a way to spend $50 million on helping ELL students and other kids who have fallen behind to become proficient, it’s a way better use of money.

I can’t imagine people saying, “I’d rather spend money to make the hallways less crowded, than helping 500 kids become proficient at math.”

Again, I know it’s complicated and the devil is in the details. However, our numbers are pretty crappy and that is somewhat representative of a lot of student outcomes. I’m not sure buildings are going to make those improve.

On the difference in numbers… there were 144 in preschool. So, I would bet that’s it. In past years, the district always posts the numbers as part of the school board meeting. This year, the Super just read them off. That makes it harder to figure things out. So, I don’t know that it is for sure pre-school, but it would make sense.

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Walt

I think the only real way to address educational outcomes with bond/capital project money is probably what they already have planned – add lots of capacity for preschool (presumably at the elementary schools) and shift other kids around to make it work.

Of course, portables/trailers could accomplish that for really cheap, probably with no bond money at all. But people dislike seeing those things at their school for whatever reason and I bet we’d see a parent revolt.

It’s also worth considering that some every building has a functional life, and we’ll hit the limit on some of them (arguably Treasure right now) eventually no matter what. If we can get another 50 years out of the high school, awesome. If it’s going to need to get replaced in 10 anyway (I’m not saying this is the case; I don’t know anything about that building) then waiting might not make sense if there’s some other benefit to be had from remodeling/rebuilding.

The failure of enrollment to grow as per projections makes it really hard to plan for the future, though. It would suck to spend money we don’t need to. It would really suck to not have room for the kids who need to go to school and have to panic build facilities down the road too.

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Walt

I’ll also point out that one of the explicit goals of the realignment/capital projects is to make enough room in the schools to add full day preschool everywhere (I think for 3 year olds as well as 4 year olds). That’s intended to help ELL/close achievement gaps, and I think probably worthwhile even if we don’t anticipate increased enrollment.

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Parkrag

That’s a good point and a good thing. Preschool has shown to increase outcomes.

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Anonymous

Walt- You sure know a lot about the school district! You also post about school board issues often, usually defending them. It makes me wonder if you are a school board member yourself. It would make sense based on your comments to this and other Park rag posts. The Park Record also has a couple people who know many details about school board issues who post under pseudonyms that seem very similar to you. It makes me wonder.

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Parkrag

Anonymous-

I can guarantee you that Walt is a real person. I have shared a beer or two with him in real life. While he would likely be great on the school board, he is not there currently. However, most of the time he does know what he is talking about.

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Walt

Walt is actually my real name, Anon, not a pseudonym. I’m just a parent with kids in the PC schools who (like Josh) tends to nerd out about everything. So I do know a fair amount about how the district operates, because I like to understand these issues as deeply as possible before making up my mind about them.

If you’re insinuating that I’m somehow being dishonest or misrepresenting myself, I’d appreciate an apology. We can disagree about whether or not the board/admin/district are doing a good job without personal attacks.

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Parkrag

I let this go through because I wanted the author to know Walt is both real and competent.

That said, I really am over the personal attacks. Comments with those in it won’t be shown anymore.

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Fran

Do you have a comparison of the student increase/decrease by grade or just last year’s grade breakdown? Some people have said that even though the overall enrollment numbers are down, the upper grades have increased significantly so would be curious to know if that’s true (i.e. a disproportionate difference between specific grades or even schools). Thank you!

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Park City Schools

Check out our interactive data dashboard for more information. Though the counts for this year have not been put in yet, the district sees variation from year to year (up 24, up 128, down 108, up 36, down 59 district wide for 2014-2020): https://ecriss.ecragroup.com/strategy/Home/Chart?ID=110425&Dashboard=PAR490

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Parkrag

Thanks for posting that. I wasn’t aware the data was available online. I think people will find that helpful.

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Walt

Wow, the story of the last 5 years is really: Trailside shrinks, HS grows. Everyone else stays the same.

Trailside is 125 students below where it was 5 years ago! That’s over 20%! I remember complaints back in the bond times about kids in trailers there. Guess that’s not a problem anymore…

I’m glad I’m not in charge of trying to plan. Park City is weird.

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Park City Schools

Also, if additional info is helpful – the Building Authority is just one strategy to support the community in reaching its facility goals for the schools. It may or may not ultimately be needed in the funding of school improvements to support the master facility plan.

The school board is working to create the conditions for the community’s current goals of:
1. establishing PCHS as a 9-12 comprehensive high school
2. ensuring there is adequate space and size for classes including career and technical education
3. providing updates to the Ecker Hill Middle School as a 6-8 middle grades program
4. expanding space and classrooms at each elementary school to support early learners

If the community’s goals change, these goals may change as well.

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anonymous

Many parents have opted to send kids to private schools in Salt Lake. Rowland Hall added a second bus this year to handle growth. Also wonder what trend is with new ELL enrollment with enhanced security at borders.


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