Aspen’s public schools will hold a lottery on May 15 to let in up to 30 students from outside the district, as officials seek to bolster enrollment numbers following a few years of smaller-than-average kindergarten class sizes.
The lottery aims to place five out-of-district students in each of the following grade levels: kindergarten, first grade, second grade, sixth grade, eighth grade and the 11th grade IB diploma program.
“As the district prepares its 2019-20 budget and reviews its student enrollment patterns, we realized that the projected enrollment will be approximately 25 students less than the student enrollment for the 2018-19 school year,” Superintendent John Maloy wrote to district parents and staff in an email sent Tuesday. “In order to maintain our classroom diversity and richness, I am excited to announce that Aspen School District is opening its doors to out-of-district students and families, many of whom in the past have expressed an interest in attending our incredible schools.”
Maloy said in an interview Tuesday that this is the first time in his 12 years as superintendent where out-of-district families have been invited to apply for enrollment.
“Our enrollment at kindergarten especially over the last couple of years has been lower than average,” Maloy said. “We are trying to build up, especially at the lower grade level, over the long haul.”
An enrollment application is available online and must be submitted by 3 p.m. on May 15. Families will be informed by the afternoon of May 16 if their child gets selected through the lottery process. There is no charge to apply, and if a child is selected, they may attend Aspen schools through graduation.
Maloy said the only weighting factor that would give an applicant a better chance of being selected is if they have a sibling already attending Aspen schools.
Screening families living out of the district who were using false pretenses to enroll their kids in local schools has been among the district’s initiatives over the past decade. Maloy said that when he joined the district, up to 27 percent of students enrolled were from out of district. That number has dwindled to 9 or 10 percent, he said.
“I believe that because of our regular practices, people weren’t trying to take advantage of the system as they were in the past,” he said.
In-district enrollment has mostly kept the school full over the past decade as well, particularly as more families move into the district and send their kids to the middle and high schools. As a result, there have not been many spots available for out-of-district students, until now.
Maloy declined to speculate on the kind of response the offer will generate over the next two weeks and credited the quality of downvalley schools. He added that he has shared the district’s plans with Roaring Fork School District Superintendent Rob Stein, as well as the heads of Aspen Country Day School, Aspen Community School and other schools in the valley.
The matter has been discussed twice in recent meetings with the district’s board of education, which blessed the effort, Maloy said.
Enrollment numbers are the bedrock data that schools rely on to plan staffing needs and to draw state funding. Maloy noted that “the dollars follow the student,” so kids migrating from downvalley districts to Aspens schools will take state funding with them.
Early education grades can’t have any more than 18 students per class, Maloy said; around 16 per teacher is ideal. Last year there were six kindergarten teachers, he said, which would cap the total number of students in that grade at 108.
A demographic study conducted for the school district four or five years ago showed that while there are a few expected dips in enrollment, the long-term trend is for numbers to remain steady, according to Maloy. The study showed that enrollment at the high school could top 600 before falling back to 560 or 570. Current enrollment at the high school is around 570, he said.