A need for more funding and a large waiting list has prompted Powell Butte Community Charter School administrators to ask the Crook County School District Board to increase enrollment numbers by 34 students over the next three years.
"We're seeing an increase in enrollment applications, and we are noticing that there's a demand in our community, and we have the space available in our facility," said PBCCS Administrator Jenn Berry-O'Shea.
On Monday evening, Crook County School Board members unanimously gave PBCCS the go ahead, asking them first to go through the charter amendment process and verify the change with Oregon Department of Education.
"I don't see that as anything that'll slow it down. It's just a procedural safeguard and the proper process," explained CCSD board member Scott Cooper. "Nothing on our end should slow it down."
Cooper expects the enrollment increase to pass at the April CCSD board meeting, which would allow 14 additional students to attend PBCCS next school year.
The rural public charter school, which practices place-based learning, opened in the fall of 2010 and serves 186 students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
"We have 22 spots that will be open for students (next school year), and we have received to date over 60 applicants, 59 of those are from Crook County residents," Berry-O'Shea told members of the school board Monday.
The month-long open enrollment period closed Wednesday.
"We are feeling a demand for the educational opportunity that we provide in our community, and we'd like to serve those families and students to the best of our ability," Berry-O'Shea said, adding that the school has the capacity to accommodate more students without hiring more teachers.
Plans call for increasing enrollment to 200 students in the next school year; 210 students for the 2018-19 school year; and 220 students in 2019-20.
They will continue to offer one class at each grade level, keeping kindergarten, first and second grade class sizes at 22 students and allowing 28 students in third through eighth grade classes.
Currently, the smallest class is seventh grade with 12 students. The largest has 28.
Increasing enrollment will also assist PBCCS in addressing the 2017-19 increase in PERS rates.
"The growing rates have left PBCCS facing difficult financial choices," Berry-O'Shea wrote in her proposal letter. "With this small increase in enrollment over the next several years, PBCCS would be in better financial standing to be able to sustain staffing and programming."
Adding 14 students next school year would bring in approximately $80,000, Berry-O'Shea said, and an additional $60,000 each of the next two years.
"The increase in State School Fund Revenue will help us to address some of the budget constraints that we currently have," Berry-O'Shea added.
Anna Logan, the CCSD director of business and finance, pointed out that if 14 CCSD students transferred to PBCCS, it would negatively affect the CCSD budget.
"The budgetary impact would be an increase in expense because 80 percent of the ADM revenue for those students would be passed through to the charter school," Logan explained.
The increase to 210 students in 2018-19 would result in an additional expense to the district of approximately $190,000.
The increase to 220 students in 2019-20 is much more speculative, because the calculation is based on State School Fund Revenue, Logan noted.
"There is no final budget information for the upcoming biennium yet, and 2019-20 occurs in the biennium after that," Logan said. "Based on today's numbers, it would be at least $270,000 in additional expense."
These figures are all based on an assumption that students would come from other schools within the district. It is also based on the state budget assumption for the State School Fund, Logan said.
In requesting an enrollment increase, PBCCS has taken into consideration the recommendations of the Crook County Community Development Department, which advised keeping enrollment below 244 students.
PBCCS will monitor wastewater, ensuring average flows do not exceed 1,600 gallons per day, and having the system evaluated and serviced twice a year.
Calling the deal "a mutually beneficial tool," Cooper pointed out that district enrollment is expected to rise in the near future.
"I think that we are going to struggle with space for elementary kids," he said. "Our alternative is to reopen the other side of (former) Crooked River and have a smaller school, but frankly, it would be such a small school that it would be ridiculously expensive. By comparison, sending 14 more kids to Powell Butte would be way more cost effective."
Board Chair Doug Smith agreed, also noting the importance of having a plan for Powell Butte.
"I don't know what the future of Powell Butte looks like, but I do believe educating students in their home area is a big part of what we're supposed to be doing as a school district," Smith said. "I'm supportive of finding a way to help Powell Butte Community Charter School be successful."
Other board members also agreed.
"I think if the building can support that number of students, then it's in our collective best interest to allow them to expand," surmised board member Patti Norris.