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District’s enrollment slows

Fewer students than expected are filling Clark County School District classrooms this fall, a slowdown in the boom that over the past decade had super-sized the school system into the fifth largest in the nation.

District officials had estimated 314,403 students would enroll this school year, but on Tuesday they said the number has turned out to be 308,860.

The school system’s high estimate is expected to cost the district about $25 million in funding, Superintendent Walt Rulffes said. The flip side is that serving fewer students could have its benefits, he said.

“A case could be made that this is a more manageable level of growth,” Rulffes said. “It does give us a chance to catch our breath.”

He said that the district will need fewer teachers than anticipated and that some schools will be less crowded, but he could not specify which ones.

The school system began the school year short 177 classroom teachers, and about 200 specialty, non-classroom positions went unfilled.

The district’s enrollment is up 2 percent this fall compared with the 2006-07 school year. That is the district’s lowest enrollment increase by percentage in a decade.

The largest percentage increase in the past 10 years was a 6.8 percent jump that the district logged in the fall of 1998.

The district’s student tally for this fall is based on the number of students who attended class Friday. The Nevada Department of Education still has to verify the district’s count before it becomes official.

The loss in anticipated funding is because the state allocates $4,891 per student in first through 12th grade. The district receives about $2,935 for every kindergarten student.

But fewer students than anticipated will not mean hired teachers are at risk of losing their jobs, Rulffes said. Teachers from schools with lower than expected enrollments will be reassigned this week to the more populated schools, he said. District school programs are not at risk of being cut either, he said.

Keith Rheault, the state’s superintendent of schools, considers fewer students than expected in Southern Nevada to be a positive development.

He said he suspects the Clark County School District at times struggles to focus on classroom initiatives because there is always a concern for hiring teachers and building schools.

“A heck of a lot of energy goes into meeting the demands of the 12,000 to 15,000 new students that district sees every year,” Rheault said.

This year that enrollment increase is 6,097.

The most the district has grown annually since the 1997-98 school year is 13,641 students, an increase posted for the 2001-02 school year.

Rulffes said it was too early to anticipate what the lower enrollment will mean for the school construction program that the district will ask voters to approve in November 2008. But, he said, he expects the district’s lower growth rate to continue into the next school year.

Keith Schwer, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at UNLV, said the district’s growth rate might be down because fewer people are moving to Southern Nevada.

Schwer said that from August 2006 to August 2007, 77,634 people surrendered out-of-state driver’s licenses to obtain Nevada ones. The total for August 2005 to August 2006 had been 81,807.

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