100-Day Count Shows .5-Percent Increase

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The Payson Unified School District gained 113 students this year, according to the recently completed 100-day count, a slight increase of .5 percent over last year.

The annual count, on which state revenues are based, revealed that the total number of students enrolled for the 2001-2002 school year is 2,872, compared to 2,759 last year. The state reimburses districts about $3,400 for each student enrolled.

Although the district actually lost 51 students a year ago the only decrease in the 13 years for which statistics are available PUSD Superintendent Herb Weissenfels isn't all that excited about this year's total.

"It's up a little bit, but not a significant amount by any means," the superintendent said. "At least it didn't go down again."

Weissenfels' lack of enthusiasm is based on two facts:

Once the "add-on accounts" are factored in, including the special education students, the final total is expected to go down a bit.

The state legislature is still tinkering with education funds as it attempts to deal with budget shortfalls due to a declining economy.

"We are supposed to be guaranteed a 2 percent increase," he said. "If that comes through, we'll be up about $80,000, but the legislature wants to tell us how to spend it."

According to Proposition 301, schools are supposed to be able to spend the increase as they see fit, but Weissenfels says the state has to come up with "certain increases" and is looking for any means possible to avoid spending new money.

On a school-by-school basis, Frontier Elementary School has 402 students this year, down 22 students from a year ago; Julia Randall Elementary School has 382 students, up 32; Payson Elementary School has 386 students, down 14; Rim Country Middle School has 680 students, up three; and Payson High School has 767 students, up 21.

The individual school figures do not add up to the overall net gain of 113 students because the numbers, which are based on the average attendance over the first 100 days of the school year, are rounded off, and because preschool and kindergarten numbers are halved for the purpose of calculating student aid from the state.

The fact that the elementary schools recorded a net loss of students does not bode well for the future, Weissenfels said.

"There is a bubble going through our district," he said. "Our high school numbers will go up by 80 or 90 kids next year because that's where the bubble is. But if you look at the county demographic material, especially the zero to 5-year-olds, the numbers are lower than they have been in several years. That means our numbers are going to continue to go down, at least over the next three or four years."

This is not good news at a time when the district is wrestling with large scale increases in insurance premiums both liability and health.

"It means we'll have to face those issues with very little revenue change," Weissenfels said.

The enrollment stagnation began showing up in the 1999-2000 school year, when the district only grew by 39 students. Between 1993 and 1998, PUSD experienced an average increase of over 100 students.

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