Its student body down 7%, Washougal School District working to recruit new families, re-attract former students

Enrollment decline means less per-student funding for district, but federal and state funds will help make up for student losses, restore 2021-22 budget

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The Washougal School District Administrative Offices are pictured Tuesday morning, April 14, 2020. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian)

The Washougal School District lost about 250 students — roughly 7 percent of its student body — during the course of the 2020-21 school year, when COVID-19 regulations forced a blend of remote and limited in-person learning, but school officials are optimistic the district will be able to attract a portion of those students back this fall.

The district is currently budgeting for 2,992 students for the 2021-22 school year, a figure that “bounces back to about what it was prior to the pandemic starting,” according to Kris Grindy, the district’s financial manager.

The district concluded the 2020-21 school year with 2,778 students, a decrease of about 250 from the 2019-20 school year.

“We hear about the great work that our leadership is doing at the building level and the great programs to re-attract students back to our schools, so hopefully we’ll see this picture change for the 2021-22 school year,” Grindy said during a June 22 Washougal School Board meeting. “Hopefully, our enrollment supersedes our expectations next year and we’ll have more flexibility within our budget.”

The district’s allotment of state funds will decrease by almost 9 percent due to the enrollment decline, according to Grindy.

“Enrollment is the main driver for the district’s resources,” Washougal School District Superintendent Mary Templeton said. “That’s where the money comes from. We are working hard to make sure that we’re recruiting and retaining our students with all of the exciting programs that we’ve had in the past.”

Music and art are “great examples” of programs that can attract students to the district, according to Templeton.

“We are a strong arts district,” she said. “That is a service that our families want, and that, as your superintendent, I insist that they have. As always, at this point in time we are conservatively projecting enrollment. That’s how we always do it at the end of spring moving into summer so that we don’t overshoot our goals. Like Kris, I’m optimistic that our enrollment will exceed our expectations.”

The district received $5 million from the federal government’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund to address the impact caused by the decline in enrollment due to the pandemic.

The district will use the $5 million to purchase personal protective equipment (PPE) and Internet hotspots, and to invest in staffing, nutrition and childcare services, professional development, learning acceleration programs, and the district’s new dual-language and transitional kindergarten programs.

“The assistance we get this year, we will not necessarily get in future years,” Grindy said during the meeting. “We’ll continue to monitor our enrollment and make adjustments monthly.”

District officials anticipate having a 2021-22 general fund budget with a beginning fund balance of $4,521,129, $52,085,170 in revenues, $52,135,274 in expenditures and an ending fund balance of $4,421,025.

The budget includes significant investments in the district’s fine arts programs, extracurricular activities, dual-language program, accelerated summer learning opportunities, culinary services, Spanish speaking family night events, transitional kindergarten program, Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program, professional development and the Washougal Learning Academy.

“The overall budget for next year is shaping up to look a lot like a normal school year,” Grindy said. “The extra funds provided by the state and federal government have resolved most of the financial challenges we were experiencing and allowed us to launch some of our new programs to help students accelerate their learning.”