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South Whidbey school enrollment figures reflect downward trend

Barring an unlikely invasion of the South End by a swarm of children lugging books, this year’s high school graduating class will be the largest for a long time to come.

A head count by South Whidbey School District reflects the tail end of the school population bubble and highlights an expected decrease in future enrollment, school officials said Thursday.

Figures for the new year show 212 full-time high school seniors on track for diplomas in the spring, officials said.

Down the hall, there are 145 full-time juniors.

Across the street and up the road at the primary school are 96 kindergartners and 100 students starting first grade.

Next door at the intermediate school are 105 fourth-graders.

Over in Langley at the middle school are 130 seventh-graders.

“We’re going though a profound demographic shift here,” said Fred McCarthy, district superintendent.

But there’s a bright side, he added. While total enrollment so far this year is down slightly from last year as anticipated, more students turned up then expected.

Last September there were 1,807 full-time students; this September there were 1,767 — but that was 23 more than were budgeted for.

Since state funding is tied to enrollment, the district was able in the past two weeks to make small additions in staffing, programs and services, McCarthy said.

Although Whidbey Island Academy, a home-school support program, and Bayview School, an alternative facility, have fewer students than expected this year, their programs weren’t altered accordingly, he added.

“We’re very pleased, considering a number of other districts have been surprised by significant drop-offs in enrollment,” McCarthy said.

District officials expect to lose 20 to 25 students during the school year, making projections pretty much on the money.

Anticipating a dramatic downturn in enrollment in the coming years, school officials trimmed $650,000 from this year’s budget and began a program of consolidating classrooms and facilities.

McCarthy doesn’t expect the picture to change anytime soon.

Lack of employment opportunity on the island, coupled with a troubled economy and the lack of affordable housing, means the number of families with school-age children will continue to decline, he said.

And the fastest-growing demographic? People in their fifties and sixties, whose parenting days are mostly over.

What does all this mean for schools?

“It means we’re going to get smaller,” McCarthy said.

Roy Jacobson can be reached at 221-5300 or rjacobson@southwhidbeyrecord.com.

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