A trio of Casper elementary schools have each lost more than 80 students over the past five years, enrollment numbers show.
Fort Caspar Academy has lost 90 students since the 2012-2013 school year. Mountain View lost 83, and Pineview saw 101 students leave. Overall, the district lost 154 students compared to last year, and roughly 350 since 2014-2015.
Because elementary enrollment has dropped in recent years — likely because of the economy — the Natrona County School District is “likely” to announce the closure of at least one school in the coming weeks, officials say. But, they add, there’s been no decision on which school will be shuttered, and they cautioned against drawing any lines between a school’s enrollment numbers and its likelihood of closure.
Still, the schools’ decreases show how Natrona County has been hit by declining enrollment, a trend experienced across the state, notably in counties that have strong reliance on the energy industry.
Grant Elementary, which the district announced would close at the end of last year, had lost 31 students compared to five years ago and 13 from 2015-2016.
But, crucially, Grant also needed substantial repairs, so drawing a comparison from Grant’s enrollment declines to schools that have lost more students is tenuous at best. Officials said then that the building’s condition played a prominent role in its closure, while they said last week that condition will have a much smaller degree of influence this time around.
Michael Jennings, the executive director of human resources at the district, said earlier this week that Natrona County’s board will discuss school closures at one of its October meetings, which are set for the 9th and 23rd.
Overall, 10 elementary schools contributed to the district’s overall enrollment decline over the past five years. Thirteen lost students over the past year. (Grant was technically counted as losing 172 students. But, given that the school closed and all of its students were absorbed elsewhere, it’s essentially meaningless to compare it to other schools.)
Meanwhile, middle and high schools lost 92 students compared to last year. Generally, those schools have fared much better than elementaries. That’s because in the years before the economy took a turn for the worse, elementary schools were growing at a steady clip, to the point that the district was told to build new facilities. That steady growth has moved into the higher grade levels since that growth.
Since 2012-2013, middle and high schools have gained 147 students.
But now, the students that filled elementaries in years past are moving through high and middle schools. Now, those schools — particularly middle — are starting to feel the effects of the decline that came after the boom.
Indeed, nearly all of the schools that lost students compared to last year were middles.
District officials have said they want to give families as much notice as possible that their school is closing. Last year, the board voted to close Grant in late November.