The Sidney Sun-Telegraph - Serving proudly since 1873 as the beautiful Nebraska Panhandle's first newspaper

By Don Ogle 

Area Enrollment Numbers Not As Bad As Predicted

Potter-Dix Continues to Buck The Trend


August 24, 2018

Going into the final weeks of the school year last May, most of the area’s small schools were bracing for an impact on enrollment that, thankfully, never happened.

Nearly all schools, which had by last spring already seen mild dips in enrollment, and based on interviews and expectations, figured they could see substantially fewer students - up to 20 percent in some projections.

But as students enrolled for the 2018-19 school year, the projections were disproved.

While Creek Valley and Leyton School Districts are down slightly on numbers, Peetz (which lies just over the Colorado border to the south), has a handful more students than it did last spring. Without exception, the districts are glad the tide turned a little in their favor.

“We prepared for the worst, and hoped for the best,” said Peetz Superintendent Mark Collard, nearly echoing the thoughts of his northern neighbors. “I was afraid we were going to be at minus-20 or so.

But like in other districts, Peetz found itself not only holding on to more students than expected, but got help from a few new enrollments as well.

Collard said some of the families impacted by the changes to job status found other jobs or found ways to tide themselves over.

“They were trying to do what they could to stay in the area,” Collard said. “They like the rural lifestyle and didn’t want to leave.”

New Leyton Superintendent Chris Geary found a similar situation, and as he begins his stint with the Warriors, is keeping a positive outlook - “because this is what we have, and we’ll make out okay with what’s happened.”

Geary said Leyton is down a few students, but at 162 for the district, doesn’t see the situation as “life changing.”

He said there will undoubtedly be some impact, but feels with proper management the district will be okay as it prepares its budget and moves forward.

“We’re going to do our best to keep spending in line,” Geary said. “We’re not going to be looking at any extras.”

At Creek Valley, a few students were lost over the course of the year, dropping from a high of 210 to just more than 200 by year’s end. More left later, but after a few new families moved in, made about half of that up when school opened this spring.

I think we’re starting off in a positive way,” said Superintendent Patrick Ningen. He said unlike other districts, not many of his students “opt in,” with the bulk of their enrollment coming from the families of the Chappell and Lodgepole areas.

Because of the school’s makeup, Creek Valley doesn’t get much in the way of state aid, which can be affected by enrollment. So with its base pretty much set, Ningen doesn’t expect any huge difficulties budget-wise, although the valuation for the district dropped about six percent.

Potter-Dix School District somehow has kept going strong, this year continuing with larger enrollment numbers. Superintendent Mike Williams can’t explain it - but the Coyote call has remained strong - with enrollment increasing each year since he arrived.

Williams said district enrollment was in the upper 140s when he came in the 2015-16 school year. Each year, that number has climbed until this year’s 184 count - two more than last year.

Unlike their rival Creek Valley, a good amount of Potter-Dix’s enrollment comes from option enrollment students. Williams said roughly 1/3 of his students are option students, “although we did have a couple families move in this summer.”

As a district, Potter-Dix didn’t take a big hit with property valuations. The blow of a 4.25 percent dip in Cheyenne County valuations was softened by the fact that the school also serves parts of Kimball and Banner Counties, which saw valuations go up.

“When I was guestimating budget over the summer, I was preparing for a 10 percent drop (in valuation),” Williams said. “But we only lost 1.8 percent overall.”

“I always feel like Dr. Jekyle and Mr. Hyde when valuations come out,” Williams said “You want the value to be up so you have good numbers for the budget. But then I feel bad for the taxpayer, because it’s hard on them.”

But with the result of the better-than-projected figures, Williams might instead feel like he rubbed Aladdin’s Lamp, for as he now looks at the numbers, he think’s his tax-asking might actually go down this year.

What better wish could he ask for?


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