Jefferson County Public Schools announced a slight decline in enrollment numbers Monday, continuing the gradual student decrease in the state’s largest school district in the past ten years.
The state’s second and third largest districts – Denver Public Schools and the Douglas County School District, respectively – released enrollment figures showing growth this fall. In fact, DPS, which lagged Jeffco by 15,000 students ten years ago, is now within 4,500 pupils of the “state’s largest” title.
In Jeffco, a sprawling district that ranges from urban areas such as Lakewood to mountain towns like Evergreen, fall student counts have bobbed up and down since 2002. But the overall trend is down, from 88,000 to 86,000, or about 2 percent in the past decade.
“We definitely have pockets of growth,” said Cheryl Humann, Jeffco’s executive director of planning and construction, pointing to housing developments going up in north Arvada and near C470 and Red Rocks.
But she doesn’t anticipate those families will begin moving in and showing up in Jeffco schools for another few years. Her staff will crunch the enrollment data, combined with other factors such as birth rates and building permits, and release a five-year forecast in December.
She expects the forecast will continue to show flat enrollment.
“Even though areas are being developed, it typically takes awhile for those to take hold and to get kids out of them,” Humann said.
Jeffco is otherwise largely landlocked and home to an aging population, with seniors following a trend of staying in their own homes longer, she said.
Other indicators that might shape school enrollment have remained fairly steady, including the percentage of live births that show up five years later in elementary schools.
Jeffco also appears to be a net winner in the choice game. Last school year, for example, 3,424 students left to attend schools outside district boundaries. But another 5,411 pupils from other districts choiced into Jeffco, for a net gain of 1,987 students.
Overall, Jeffco reported 85,796 students enrolled this fall, a decline of 176 students from fall 2010. Last year’s decline was 310 students. In 2002, Jeffco reported 87,925 students.
Several grades did post a bump this year, including 283 students in grade 3 and 211 students in grade 12. Grade-level bumps in the early years tend to follow bumps in birth rates. Humann credited the district’s dropout prevention program for the jump in high school seniors.
Denver’s enrollment count this fall is 81,438, marking the first time the district has surpassed the 80,000 mark since 1974. District officials say the bulk of the growth is in preschool through grade 5. Ten years ago, in fall 2002, DPS reported enrollment of 71,972.
But even that 9,466-student gain from 2002-2011 in Denver pales in comparison to Douglas County’s growth during that time period. In 2002, the affluent district south of Denver listed enrollment of 40,511. This fall, its student count is 63,115 – an increase of more than 22,000 students.
Dougco’s rate of growth has slowed in recent years. This year’s figure is about 1,500 more than last year.