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School district's 2018 enrollment dips slightly

Following two years when official enrollment in the Alexandria Area School District rose a combined 4.6 percent, the Oct. 1 figures reported to the state showed a slight decrease.

Trevor Peterson, director of business services for the district, informed the school board at its monthly meeting Monday night that enrollment fell by 23 students, to 4,143. That represents a 0.5 percent decrease.

That comes on the heels of increases of 70 students in 2016 and 113 students last year, and Peterson said in light of that, it wasn't a surprise that enrollment dipped this year.

"When we see a huge bump like we did last year, it tends to even itself out," he said.

Alexandria is considered a larger regional hub district, he said, and as such sees more movement by students.

"We're not unique in that," Peterson said of being a regional hub. "It does create a little bit of uncertainty."

The decrease came largely in two grades: There are 11 fewer students in kindergarten this year than in October 2017; and the senior class fell from 330 last year to 306 this year.

One helpful way to look at enrollment, Peterson said, is to compare classes from one year to the next. For example, there were 291 first graders last year, and that number stayed exactly the same for this year's second grade class.

"We again had a grade progression that is over 100 percent," he said, noting that as far back as they have data, that has been the case. By excluding kindergarten and 12th grade, since there are no comparable figures in those cases, grade progression enrollment numbers were 100.9 percent of the previous year.

In comparisons by class, this year's sixth graders grew to 331, or 15 more than they had in fifth grade last year. This year's junior class is 310, which is 12 smaller than were in 10th grade last year.

The largest class by far is the freshman group, with 351 students. The smallest are in elementary grades, where kindergarten, first, second and fourth grades are the only ones under the 300 mark.

"The 4,143 number is very much in line with long-term projections that have been made over the years," board member Alan Zeithamer said. "We had a couple years that were outliers."

In the 2012-13 school year, Peterson said the school's long-range projections were for 4,002 students in 2018. Three years later, the 2018 projection was for 4,021.

"So we do continue to exceed our long-term enrollment projections by a fair number," he said.

Those projections are based on a number of factors, from birth records to incoming kindergarten class sizes to a community ed census, among others.

Underpass gets green light

A joint agreement between the district, the city of Alexandria and Douglas County was approved by the board, authorizing a pedestrian underpass connecting land on the east side of County Road 46 with Woodland Elementary School.

The Alexandria City Council approved the agreement at its Oct. 8 meeting, and the Douglas County Board, which had verbally agreed to it at an Oct. 2 meeting, was expected to sign off on it officially Tuesday, Oct. 16.

The agreement calls for the district to pay for the improvements on school property, estimated at $57,630. That constitutes the construction of a sidewalk, from where the underpass enters the Woodland property to the school parking lot.

The city and county will split the remaining cost, with their shares estimated to be $283,820.

Miltona project

The school board also approved an agreement with JLG Architects to design plans for improvements at Miltona Elementary.

The board rejected all three bids it got on the project at its July 16 meeting, sending it back to square one. The lowest bid came in at $1.24 million, or about $500,000 more than the amount budgeted by the school.

The total project budget this time, as listed in the agreement, is $700,000, with $61,000 going to JLG, and general construction costs ranging from $600,000-$640,000.

The construction timeline is set for summer 2019, with the design scheduled from October through December of this year.

World's Best Workforce

Rick Sansted, the district's assistant superintendent of teaching and learning, presented the 2017-2018 World's Best Workforce Report summary and 2018-2019 district and school site improvement goals, both of which were approved.

The building goals for elementary and middle school were the same: to increase reading and math performance. High school goals include increasing academic performance, and raising both the four-year graduation rate and the number of students who are college and career ready.

World's Best Workforce is a state-required plan to address five specific criteria: having all children ready for school; seeing all third-graders read at grade level; closing racial and economic achievement gaps; getting all students ready for careers and college; and graduating all students from high school.

The district met three of its five goals: kindergarten readiness; third-grade reading, where the percentage of students meeting or exceeding grade-level proficiency rose to 65.5 percent; and college and career readiness.

In that last category, 54 percent of graduates planned to attend a four-year school, 28 percent to attend a two-year college; 11.7 percent planned to enter the workforce, and 1 percent were entering the military.

Two areas where the district fell short of its goals were: in four-year graduation rates, the goal was for 94 percent in 2017, rather than the 91.2 percent reported to the state (next year's goal is 96 percent); and in closing achievement gaps in reading scores, which rose to 39.9 percent for special education students and 15.8 percent for students in the free and reduced category.

"We continue to look at ways we're closing those gaps and decreasing them. We still have work to do," Sansted said.

In other matters

The school board:

• Accepted the resignation of Mike Wencl as transportation supervisor, two other staff members and four co-curricular staff.

• Approved adding booster coaches for hockey, middle school wrestling and an assistant for ninth grade boys basketball, an assistant coach for middle school drama, and two paraprofessionals.

• Accepted two retirements, including Jerome Bitzan, building and grounds supervisor, effective Jan. 31, 2019.

• Approved a financial audit from Eide Bailly, LLP. Luke Evenson of the firm said he had been part of the audit for the past five years or so, and that the audit received an unmodified opinion, which he termed as a clean audit opinion. That is defined as financial statements using generally accepted accounting principles, being absent of material misstatements and having been fairly presented. In short, he said there was "nothing to set up any red flags."

• Approved extended field trips for the high school theatre department to England and Scotland in July and August 2020, and for the high school's world language students to Bemidji for the Concordia Language Village from Nov. 30-Dec. 2.

• Heard a presentation by Michelle Bethke-Kaliher, the district's director of student support services, who provided an update on summer programming.