By LIZ BUTTON
Unexpectedly high student enrollment delayed the mailing of elementary school students’ class placement letters this year, according to Rye City School District officials. As of Sept. 3, officials were reporting an enrollment total of 3,329 students, more than 100 students beyond what district demographers expected, and part of a recent enrollment increase that is largely unique to Rye in the context of the county.
Superintendent Dr. Frank Alvarez sent out a letter to parents Aug. 29, the Thursday before student placement notifications were scheduled to be sent, informing them the district was experiencing extreme enrollment fluctuation.
Fluctuations were most intense at the elementary school level, Alvarez wrote, necessitating that class placements for students in the first through fifth grades not be finalized until a week later than officials expected. Letters for students in first through fifth grades were mailed on Wednesday, Sept. 4. The other grades’ letters were mailed on time; kindergarten placement letters were sent out Aug. 29 and middle school and high school schedules were sent on Aug. 30.
This year, the total number of students who enrolled in the city’s three elementary schools came to 1,625, an amount that includes eight special education students. This year, Osborn School topped the list with 624 students, while Midland School enrolled 590 students, and 411 students enrolled in Milton School, the smallest school in the district.
This totals 56 more elementary school students than last year.
Due to the unexpectedly high enrollment numbers, the district had to hire four new teachers beyond the number of postions budgeted for in May, according to to Board of Education President Laura Slack. One new fourth grade teacher was added at each elementary school to cover three added class sections, while one new fifth grade teacher was added at Midland to cover another added section.
This was a very difficult decision for the board, Slack said, in light of layoffs in this year’s budget due to the strictures of a tax cap environment.
Some parents at Osborn School had expected there to be larger class sizes in the fourth grade this year. Parents reasoned that there would be five class sections instead of six, due to a shortage of teachers in the absence of Carin Mehler and Gail Topol, two of the four teachers who were suspended after being implicated in this spring’s testing scandal. However, this concern turned out to be unfounded.
In terms of the older grades, this year’s total for the middle school includes a reduction to 740 students, while the high school lists an enrollment of 964 students. In the 2012-2013 academic year, the final enrollment total for the high school was 887 students, while the middle school enrollment was 754 students.
Every summer, Slack said, district officials look at every section in the district, adjusting enrollment numbers daily and closely monitoring changes using spreadsheets.
The district pays close attention to what happens in the final month of summer vacation, she said.
This August, the district registered more than 80 new students. Thirteen students were enrolled in district schools during the week Alvarez’s letter was sent out alone.
Final schedules always remain subject to change until the moment the district sends out letters informing students of their assigned classes, Slack said.
The school district sometimes expects an influx of new students, but not this year, Slack said.
Officials especially did not expect an enrollment increase of more than 100 students more than last year’s count by this time, which was 3,210.
“This unpredictability in enrollment is even more surprising given the district’s demographers anticipated a 3,200 count for the 2013-2014 school year,” Alvarez said.
The letter informed parents the district delayed student placement notifications “in order to ensure that we are accommodating all student needs responsibly.”