The Boulder Valley School District building in Boulder on Nov. 17, 2021. Credit: Anthony Albidrez

The Boulder Valley School District held its last board meeting of the year on Dec. 14. The main topics of discussion were the finalized enrollment numbers for the current school year and budget projections for next year. With education funding determined by student headcount, those numbers could have big consequences down the road.

Here are three takeaways from the meeting.

Enrollment numbers are still falling

Glen Segrue, a senior planner with the district, updated the board on enrollment for the current school year. 28,087 students are enrolled for the 2021–2022 academic year, which is 279 students (about 1%) fewer than last year. Enrollment has been declining for the last four years, but the Covid-induced drop from 2019 to 2020 was far steeper, with a reduction of 1,616 students.

Enrollment this year is slightly below what the district projected in September. Segrue said officials had hoped to recoup more students who left the district during the pandemic. Elementary schools in the district did see a modest bump in enrolled students this year, especially in kindergarten, which rebounded 13% from last year’s record-low. Middle school numbers, on the other hand, continued to fall this year while high school enrollment has been “largely unaffected by the pandemic.”

Geographically, the city of Boulder has been driving most of the population decline in recent years. Segrue said the Erie and Lafayette communities saw the “only significant resident growth we’ve experienced in the last few years. And most of that’s driven by new housing construction.” 

The district expects enrollment will continue to decline in coming years, by about 250 students per year, due to population trends that long predate the pandemic. Birth rates in the Boulder Valley School District area have been declining since 1990.

Fewer students, more (budgetary) problems

District CFO Bill Sutter offered the meeting’s other major update with his presentation on the 2022–23 budget development process. This conversation also focused on the consequences of lower enrollment, since education funding is determined by student headcount. Sutter said each 1% drop in enrollment (about 300 students) leads to a loss of $3 million in funding, though the reduction is spread out over several years.

Over time, continual drops in enrollment will mean fewer teachers employed by the district. A 1% reduction in funding is equivalent to losing 12 full-time teachers. Sutter said enrollment has been trending downward for years due to slowing population growth, but he also emphasized the role of the Covid-19 pandemic. “Students just did not return as was projected a year ago,” he said.

Lisa Sweeney-Miran, the board’s Vice President, connected the enrollment losses to Boulder’s high living costs and housing policies. “Folks who want well-funded schools and want to make sure we can avoid school closures, and want to see thriving and diverse student bodies … should make sure their voices are being heard in support of affordable housing and zoning changes,” she said.

Public comments: bilingual options in Lafayette and gratitude for members

This meeting featured only two comments from the public. The first was from the parent of a student at the Pioneer Bilingual Elementary School in Lafayette. She expressed frustration that “there are no good options available for [her] child to continue on a bilingual pathway after Pioneer.”

Though middle school students in Lafayette can take a bus to Manhattan Middle School in Boulder for bilingual education, there is no bilingual program in Lafayette itself. She said this change in availability happened without input from the community and called on the board to support more opportunities in Lafayette for both students learning Spanish and ESL students learning English.

The other public comment came from the mother of two BVSD students. She congratulated the board members who were successful in the recent school board election and said she is glad to be represented by people who have integrity and “believe in facts.” The resident also thanked everyone who declined to sign a petition to trigger a recall election for multiple board members over the district’s mask mandate.