Increased enrollment is a mixed blessing for CloquetThe Cloquet School District has a problem many other districts in Minnesota would frankly love to have. It has as many students as it can handle.
By: Jeff Papas, Pine Journal
The Cloquet School District has a problem many other districts in Minnesota would frankly love to have.
It has as many students as it can handle.
Reports from the Sept. 10 school board meeting show that 2,397 students are enrolled in the district in grades K-12, which includes the Cloquet Area Alternative Education Programs (CAAEP).
About 1,100 of those students are in the district’s two elementary schools, which are filled to capacity – and the district also realized a net gain of 20 more students through open enrollment according to Superintendent Ken Scarbrough.
“We had about 150 students enroll this summer, and fall brings more every day for us to deal with,” Scarbrough said at the meeting. “We were looking for a decrease but [enrollment] has gone up substantially from what we had projected.”
Churchill Elementary School Principal David Wangen said he couldn’t remember higher enrollment numbers in the elementary schools.
“That’s pretty impressive,” he said at the meeting. “I just hear about a lot of people wanting to come to Cloquet.”
The impact in the kindergarten and first grade sections has been carefully watched by administration, especially since the kindergarten classes do not have aides for the second year running.
“Class sizes right now are in the low 20s which on the state level is about average to slightly below average,” Scarbrough said. “Our teachers are doing a good job, but we are always going to keep an eye on the needs of those populations, some of which will have special-needs students in them.”
The elementary school populations pose special challenges not only for teachers but for the Kids’ Corner after school program, which is also at capacity.
“We are full,” said Cloquet Community Education Director Ruth Reeves at the Sept. 10 meeting. “We decided that 90 students was as many as we could fit into that building (Zion Lutheran Church) for safety and bathroom reasons. The growth in the school district is good to see but we are experiencing the same issues as in the school buildings. We’re already making future plans for what we’re going to do.”
Scarbrough said this week that one of those options might well be to stop busing some of the students from Churchill to Zion for Kids Corner, and leave them at Churchill for after-school day care.
“We’re just happy that parents are using the program,” Scarbrough said this week. “We are always concerned that we might be overtaxing the Zion facility with kids so we are looking at options.”
The class size issue also extends to the high school. CHS Principal Warren Peterson got approval from the board on Sept. 10 to advertise for two part-time teachers in English and social studies to alleviate very large class sizes there.
Some high school sections have more than 35 students in them, with the 11th-grade English classes averaging about that amount according to Peterson.
“One economics class is jam-packed, with 38-41 kids in a section,” Peterson said at the meeting. “They are brimming. In the second semester we have an econ section with 37 kids, 35-38 kids in World Challenges and 35-36 in government and American history.”
The increased enrollment carries another, more positive, benefit to the district in the form of more state financial aid. Scarbrough said the increase could be as much as $100,000 if current enrollment numbers hold.
“That will allow us to make some adjustments,” he said. “But our trend has been usually around December or January we start losing enrollment. Last year, though, we didn’t lose as much as we usually do. You also have to consider that we are planning on a (general fund) deficit of over $500,000 that we have to deal with as well.”
So what will be the long-term solution? Scarbrough said if the district keeps growing, long-term planning will have to address the issue.
“Part of the school board’s strategic plan is to deal with this issue,” he said. “In a year or two we may bring a facilities request to the voters in the form of a bond issue.”