(Update: Adding Redmond enrollment numbers)
Projections are difficult amid COVID-19: 'It's really difficult to know where they went'
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) – You might call Brad Henry the chief number-cruncher for Bend-La Pine Schools. But after the upheaval that COVID-19 has brought to just about everything, including school attendance figures, he’s not about to claim he can say why this fall’s enrollment is down about 1,100 students from two years ago.
“It’s really difficult to know where they went,” Henry, the district’s chief operations and financial officer, told the school board Tuesday evening during a look at the first fall enrollment numbers, a week into the 2021-22 school year.
“We do get anecdotal information, when other districts request files,” he said. “We will look at which students who were with us pre-pandemic are not with us now, aside from graduations of course, and get an idea which students, where and in which grades. It might give us a clue as to what happened.”
The Redmond School District also has seen a less-dramatic drop, from 7,469 students in the fall of 2019 to 7,199 students this fall, which is still up a bit from the year-ago enrollment figure of 7,069, Public Information Officer Sheila Miller said.
Bend-La Pine Schools welcomed nearly 17,600 students last week, about 700 fewer than the district had projected. But as you might expect, making a good estimate amid the pandemic’s varied impacts was a tall order, too. In typical years, the birth rate five years ago is the start for such projections, but there are other forces at play these days.
“It was very difficult to make that projection,” Henry said. “We landed on one that had us not quite getting back to 2019 enrollment.” Instead, “we’re about where we were last year at this time,” though that involved all students being in distance learning.
Board member Carrie McPherson Douglass said she finds the drop in enrollment “concerning” and asked if it might reflect an overall drop in the area’s population after many years of growth.
“It seems a lot of workers have left the area,” she said.
Henry said, “The pandemic feels like forever. It’s hard to have good population numbers during a pandemic. Obviously, before we were growing. I’ve heard we’re still growing, but don’t know that for a fact.”
Board member Melissa Barnes Dholakia asked about any early signs regarding the financial impact, since pre-student enrollment is the basis for state funding directed to schools.
While there will be more discussions as the numbers firm up in coming weeks, Henry said “revenues will be down.” Last year, the state held districts “mostly harmless” in terms of revenues, he said, but “this year, we will not be.”
“We’re in tune with what’s happening across the state, at least in the large districts,” Henry said. “Most large districts are seeing the same thing – maybe not to this degree, but a number are also down from the pre-pandemic peak.”
If the figures are down statewide, the amount of state funds per pupil can increase, so there could be “some offset, but there will be an impact on revenue,” Henry said.