Payson Unified School District’s enrollment is continuing to decline, despite an increase in elementary school attendance.
This year, average enrollment has dropped to 2,683 students, a loss of roughly 2 percent. Average enrollment is not the same as head count, but is a gauge of daily attendance used for funding purposes.
In head count, Payson’s three elementary schools gained 20 students combined, while Rim Country Middle School’s enrollment dropped 30 students. Ten fewer students attend the high school this year, and one less attends Payson Center for Success.
Compared to last year’s loss of 100 students, Superintendent Casey O’Brien said this year’s drop is slight.
“The projection is flat to a slight decline, so I would say we’re in those parameters,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien attributes half of the attrition to fewer Payson students, and the other half to fewer students from Pine, Strawberry and Tonto Basin.
The mystery is, where are these students going?
“We don’t know,” O’Brien said. Some of the loss is likely due to families moving to find jobs, but tracking where students go is difficult, mostly because the district can’t ask them. They’re gone.
“When people leave, they leave,” O’Brien said.
Pine Strawberry Superintendent Mike Clark said his school lost seven students this year, which reduced the school’s enrollment to 138. Of the 11 graduating eighth-graders, eight students enrolled in Payson High School. Two moved, and one chose homeschooling.
Declining enrollment doesn’t impact the Pine Strawberry school because it is so small that its funding isn’t based on attendance numbers.
The state funds Payson roughly $3,000 per student, which is based on enrollment through the first 100 days.
This year’s decline will not hugely impact the district, O’Brien said. Last year, the district kept six positions vacant after teachers left and cut money from office operations to stay solvent.