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Numbers fall, honors delayed - Fewer students, fewer dollars

By Katherine Sather

Fall school enrollment fell short of what Mercer Island School District planners anticipated. The count for September was 23 students short for a total of about 3,947 students.

The shortfall could cause a $100,000 loss in revenue from the state, said Mike Ziara, associate superintendent of business services. The district receives roughly $4,000 from the state to pay for the basic education of each student.

At the Oct. 6 meeting, Ziara told the School Board that the district is also short 44 special education students than it budgeted for, which could cause an additional loss. He said that overall the district has experienced five years of negative growth. Enrollment in the district peaked at about 4,146 in 2000 and has now dropped to about 3,947, the lowest level since 1998.

Most of this year's drop was at the secondary level, Ziara said, but special education enrollment could pick up later in the school year as more students with special needs are identified.

In other business, board members approved district-wide science exams, to be given annually, and discussed the timeline for adopting honors courses to the freshman and sophomore curriculum.

The School Board approved giving district-wide science tests for most grades next year. They will be given in addition to annual math, reading and writing exams to make sure students are meeting standards in each subject. Each exam will take about an hour of class time, said Superintendent Cyndy Simms. Tests may be purchased.

Board Member Lisa Eggers said she was concerned with the amount of tests being added to the curriculum, when students already take the WASL exam and other assessment tests. She said she was ``troubled by the resources being devoted'' to the tests.

Simms said the individual exams give more in-depth results that arrive sooner than the WASL, which allows teachers more time to help students in areas where they do not meet state and district standards for learning.

``That's our first job -- to make sure all kids meet standards,'' she said.

The board agreed to study the issue more.

Finally, the School Board debated the timeline for adopting freshman and sophomore honors classes. It had planned for a five-month study on honors and AP courses to be finished in March, so results could be used to add honors courses to the curriculum by next fall.

Simms asked the board to consider extending the study until the end of the school year so the high school's new principal, John Harrison, could have time to learn about the issue. This would postpone adopting honors courses until the 2007-2008 school year, which troubled some School Board members who have repeatedly supported increasing the availability of advanced classes.

The board will vote at the Oct. 27 meeting whether to approve the study delay.

``John said `I can't do the job well if it has to be done by March,''' Simms said. ``If we really want to do it right, and we really want to resolve the issues, we need time to do it right.''

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