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Friday, March 1, 2024
March 1, 2024

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Enrollment decline hits Washougal School District in the pocketbook

Student shortfall for 2023-24 school year could mean $300,000 less in funding

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The Washougal School District has cut several positions in response to lower-than-expected enrollment figures at the start of the 2023-24 school year.

Assistant Superintendent Aaron Hansen told Washougal School Board members on Oct. 24 that initial counts show the district is about 20 students short of the 2,663 students it projected when putting together its budget for the 2023-24 school year.

“The bottom line is that our September enrollment was less than we had planned,” Hansen said. “If we’re down 20 now, by the end of the school year, we’ll probably be down 30. What’s the impact of that? Well, we get about $10,000 per FTE (full-time equivalent), so that’s about $300,000 (that we’re going to be losing), and we need to make some plans to adjust.”

Most notably, the district eliminated the Washougal Learning Academy principal position, which was held by Jason Foster, who now teaches science at Jemtegaard Middle School.

The district remains “committed to the Washougal Learning Academy program,” according to Brown, and is “working to grow the program within” Gause Elementary School.

The district currently employs 177.5 full-time equivalent certificated staff members and 58 paraeducators, down from 194.3 and 62, respectively, in the 2022-23 school year.

“We actually feel pretty good about the number of the staff that we have,” Hansen said. “But we are leaner and seeing a little bit more overload than we did last year. That means we have, in some cases, more students in classrooms, but we still have very low class sizes when we look at ourselves compared to other schools in the county.”

The district’s enrollment, “the primary driver” of its funding, has been declining for the past several years. The district hit a high point during the 2017-18 school year, when it counted 3,063 pupils, but dropped to 2,732 by the 2022-23 school year.

District leaders are tentatively projecting that student enrollment will go back up in 2027.

“We are hopeful that after the 2026-27 school year, we’re going to start to see it going the other way because of new development and potentially more housing available on the market,” Hansen said. “We believe that we’re going to see an increase.”

However, the district is now caught in “this in-between time when the Sunset Ridge (housing boom) will be ‘sunsetting,’ but we have not yet backfilled (those losses and are dealing with) lower birth rates as an additional element,” according to Superintendent Mary Templeton.

The district is preparing to cut additional staff and make other adjustments during the “in-between time,” Templeton said.

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