Board hears good news in demographic study update
Date: Tuesday, October 16, 2012
The Littleton Public Schools Board of Education was presented with an updated demographic study during Thursday night’s regularly scheduled meeting. Overall, the news is very encouraging. Resident enrollment continues to decline, but at a slower rate than in the past; out-of-district enrollment helps offset resident losses and continues to increase, particularly at the high school level; the LPS student body is more diverse; and elementary schools are using generally between 75% and 100% of available space, an increase from the previous study.
LPS routinely conducts demographic studies every few years. Recent studies were conducted in 2003, 2006, and now in 2012 by Strategic Resources West, etc. in Castle Rock, CO. The studies provide both current and historical data about the communities and families the school district serves. They also provide another set of data for consideration when making facility decisions about what is best for student learning. As in past studies, the 2012 update focuses primarily on the elementary level because secondary trends can be predicted using elementary data. Data from the 2010 Census was included in this update. According to Denny Hill from Strategic Resources West, Inc., the 2012 update provides information that is consistent with that found in previous studies.
Because the communities LPS serves are landlocked, there continues to be very little new residential development. Housing turnover continues to be much slower here than in other parts of the Denver metro area. The survey states that residents like living here and stay long after their children have graduated from high school, which accounts for the low housing turnover. And, while the housing turnover rate may be increasing slightly, the data suggests that new families moving into the area may have older children and are not likely to have more. “This is a really nice area, so it is not surprising that once people move here, they tend to stay here,” said Diane Doney, LPS chief operations officer. “This kind of longevity leads to a strong sense of community as well as pride and support for schools. Residents feel ownership for their schools and their community.” The good news is that resident enrollment is declining at a slower rate and may level off in the next few years. LPS serves an aging community, and that trend also continues. The median age of women has increased from 42 in 2000 to 44.7 in 2010, which could indicate fewer resident students in the future. None of this is a surprise, as the reports prepared for the district in 2003 and 2006 highlighted these same characteristics.
Open enrollment, also referred to as out-of-district enrollment, has become more important to LPS, as well, as the state funds its public schools based on enrollment. Colorado’s choice law allows nonresidents to enroll students in LPS or any other public Colorado school without paying tuition when state and district guidelines are followed. School districts receive the same amount of per-pupil funding for out-of-district students as they do for resident students. The state also picks up the cost of local taxes that out-of-district students don’t pay, which ensures that out-of-district students do not financially burden school district residents.
In the past decade, the district has been very successful at increasing out-of-district enrollment to help offset the decline in resident enrollment and help stabilize funding. In 1999, about 2,000 students were open enrolled in LPS, which accounted for about 12 percent of total district enrollment. Today, more than 3,000 students are open enrolled in LPS and account for about 20 percent of total district enrollment. That is a higher percentage than any other school district of similar size or larger along the Front Range. “LPS has a strong reputation. I’m amazed at how far students come to attend school here,” said Hill. “Arapahoe, Heritage, and Littleton high schools in particular enroll a large number of out-of-district students.”
Because the study was completed this past summer, 2012-2013 preliminary enrollment data is not included. Overall district enrollment increased 105 students this school year from last year, due in large part to an increase of 160 out-of-district students over last year and a larger kindergarten class.
The 2012 study shows that the LPS student population is becoming more diverse. The percent of students living in poverty has increased from 13.9 percent in 2005 to 21.3 percent in 2011. The percent of nonwhite students has increased from 16.4 percent in 2005 to 24.4 percent in 2011. The percent of students receiving special education services, English as a second language services, and gifted/talented services has remained fairly steady from 2005 to 2011. “We are excited to see more diversity in our community,” said LPS Superintendent Scott Murphy. “Our schools are becoming richer, more vibrant and more representative of the world. Twenty years ago, only a handful of languages were spoken in our schools. Today, nearly 50 different languages are spoken by our families.”
Most national studies show that the greater the level of poverty, the lower the student achievement. But, LPS is defying those odds. The percentage of LPS students scoring proficient and advanced on the Transitional Colorado Assessment Program (TCAP) test in reading and writing at both the elementary and middle levels is increasing even as the percentage of students in poverty is increasing. “The work our teachers and their support teams are doing through Professional Learning Communities and differentiated instruction is making a difference,” said LPS Deputy Superintendent Connie Bouwman. “There is a lot of work to do yet, but we are having success in closing achievement gaps, and that’s very exciting. The entire LPS community should take credit for this success because it takes everyone working together to see these kinds of results.”
The study also provides data on elementary school facility use and capacity. The study shows that elementary schools are generally using between 75 percent and 100 percent of available space. This tells district officials that elementary school staffs are using facilities wisely based on the needs of the students and what is best for their learning. It also shows how the closure of two elementary schools in the district a few years ago has helped bolster enrollment and stabilize facility use across the district’s remaining 13 elementary schools. “Our facilities are used wisely by the district and by the community,” said Murphy. “Together, we have found very meaningful ways to use the two repurposed schools. Currently, Meals on Wheels and Littleton Soccer rent space in our facilities. A teacher cadet program, a teacher training center, and some of our alternative education programs are also located in this space. Just this fall, we opened a preschool at Ames. These programs benefit the entire community. We’ve worked very hard with community partners to make this a win-win situation, and it’s been very successful.”
“Making the decision to close Ames and Whitman elementary schools was very difficult for the Board and it had a significant impact on those communities,” said Board of Education President Bob Colwell. “But this study shows us how doing so kept enrollment strong and facility capacity up at the other elementary schools. If we hadn’t closed schools, we would be facing the same issues today that we were back then.”
Hill noted that the facility data will help the Board as they consider other issues facing the district, such as maintaining aging facilities and making sure schools can handle the technological needs of 21st century learning in the district for many years to come. The average age of LPS facilities is around 50 years. “Our community has been committed to maintaining its aging school facilities over time. But, even then, older facilities require major repairs and maintenance every 10 years or so,” said Murphy. “It’s important to protect the community’s investment in its schools.”
The 2012 Update of the Demographic and Elementary Enrollment Analysis and Forecasts report is available online.