P-C joins Waukee on new state list

Staff report
It’s not often — OK, probably not ever — that Paton or Churdan can be mentioned in the same breath as Waukee.

One is the fastest-growing city in the state. The other is just tickled to be getting a new gas station.

But when the Iowa Department of Education on Jan. 30 released its official certified enrollment report, there it was in black and white — Waukee and Paton-Churdan posted the state’s largest one-year increase in students, by percent, for the 2014-15 school year.

By sheer numbers, there’s still no comparison.

Waukee’s enrollment spiked from 8,289 students in 2013-14 to 8,773 in 2014-15, according to the state.

Meanwhile, enrollment at Paton-Churdan bounced from 192 in 2013-14 to 204 in 2014-15.

But, both represent a 6 percent increase in new students.

Bondurant-Farrar also posted a 6-percent rise in its student population, from 1,596 in 2013-14 to 1,697 in 2014-15.

The three districts led the state in one-year gains by percent.

For P-C, even such a modest gain is a win for the little guys.

According to state data, more than 60 percent of districts with fewer than 600 students saw enrollment decline in 2014-15.

“What we’re doing is working,” Annie Smith, principal of the PK-12 Paton-Churdan Community School in Churdan, told The Jefferson Herald at the start of the 2014-15 school year.

Overall, for the fourth year in a row, the number of students enrolled in Iowa’s public schools increased from the year before.

The pattern follows 17 years of declining enrollment.

However, the department cautioned the rate of growth is slowing and is expected to plateau.

Under state law, certified enrollment is used in the formula that determines state funding for public school districts.

The certified enrollment count is taken by districts on the first day of October each year. Official numbers are then confirmed by the state Department of Education.

Certified enrollment for the Greene County Community School District for 2014-15 is 1,284.

Statewide, a total of 480,772 students in kindergarten through 12th grade enrolled in public schools during the 2014-15 school year, compared to 478,921 students in 2013-14 — an increase of about .4 percent.

The statewide enrollment increase is largely credited to a surge in birth rates from 2003 to 2008.

Birth rates spiked in 2007, but have decreased in recent years.

Despite the statewide increase, 52 percent of the state’s 338 school districts suffered declining enrollment, with the smallest districts facing the largest losses.

“There are still successful small schools out there,” Smith said in the fall. “The mindset is you have to be bigger.”

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