Pine Enrollment Decline Prompts Class Cuts

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The Pine Strawberry School District board Monday night eliminated pre-school and laid off its teacher, along with one special education teacher and a paraprofessional due to declining enrollment.

The decision followed a two-hour executive session.

“It’s always hard to do these things because everybody’s so close,” said board member Jessica Barnett.

“If I was in the Mesa school district, or one of the big ones, you’re just talking numbers,” said principal and superintendent Mike Clark, adding that the board members in a larger district may not know the laid-off individuals.

In a close-knit community like Pine, however, administrators not only know the people affected, they know how few jobs exist in town.

The district’s enrollment has declined 14 percent since September, down to 123 as of Monday.

More than half of the departing students were in special education. Thirteen pre-school students will no longer have a program in Pine.

Clark said the state doesn’t require pre-school except for special needs students, which the district would still provide. However, none of the existing students qualify.

“I don’t need as many staff members as we had,” Clark said. “Because of the declining student enrollment, we will be down to where we need to be.”

Monday’s cuts equaled $122,000.

The district received $99,000 from a federal rural schools program, which could help compensate for the $180,000 Clark said the school could lose from the state.

The district could receive another $109,000 in federal stimulus funds in two installments. The money, however, is targeted for special education and teaching students at risk of failing, especially low-income students. Clark said 68 percent of Pine’s students qualify for the free or reduced lunch program.

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