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:
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.