Opinion

Enrollment up | Editorial

It is the time of year when we count. We count votes, budget dollars, test scores and more. We look at where we are versus where we have been. We compare new numbers to what we expected to see and groan when they are not. School district officials have seen and parents have heard that there are dozens of new students attending Island schools. Those worried about class size creeping up are concerned. The district carefully forecasts the number of students expected each year. But in the end, they are forecasts — educated guesses. There are 114 extra students who are attending Island public schools so far this year. Official counts will not be made or released until October. The number actually represents a small error. Yet even small errors have larger consequences, both good and bad, for students and teachers and school district funding. Each new student represents approximately $4,000 in ‘revenue’ from the state paid to the district. Yet, as we have all been made aware, it costs more than $4,000 each year to educate a student. And there are other constraints. Hiring a new teacher means that certain enrollment thresholds need to be met before a new teacher is added. Classroom space, already an issue, has to be found. School officials are skilled in the art of adapting to changes in the number of new students they expect each fall. Of course, there are as many questions as there are intricacies about operating a school district. Yet no one, except a reporter from this newspaper, attended an advertised public hearing on the final school district budget for 2010-2011.

Just where are these new students coming from? According to persuasive anecdotal evidence, there is a contingent of Mercer Island High School alums who have returned to live here with families in tow. An informal list reveals that perhaps a dozen new students this fall are children of alumni from the MIHS graduating classes of 1988, 1989 and 1990. Is it simply an interesting fact or ongoing trend? Everyone seems to know someone who went off to college and work, only to return when it was time to raise a family. And why? Well, the schools, of course; the parks and playgrounds and the community. And having grandma and grandpa nearby to baby-sit — priceless.

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