The Pendleton School District’s student population continues to shrink in 2018-19, but a district official found silver lining in the latest batch of numbers.
The Oregon Department of Education released its annual fall membership report in February, revealing that the Pendleton’s enrollment had shrunk from 3,176 in 2017-18 to 3,160 in 2018-19.
The enrollment figure continues a years-long downward trend. But Matt Yoshioka, director of curriculum, instruction, and assessment for the Pendleton School District, said the net loss of 16 students represents a better result than years past.
“We actually feel like it’s a success in some ways,” he said.
Pendleton lost more than 120 students from 2013 to 2018 and 68 students between 2015-16 and 2016-17 alone.
Compared to those numbers, Yoshioka said it feels like the 16-student loss is an indicator of a “plateau” effect where Pendleton’s student population will begin to flatten out.
While most of the losses came from the elementary school level, Yoshioka said there isn’t much the district can do to stop the outward migration.
Last June, the district presented a “mobility report” that showed most students who leave the district are doing it because their families are leaving town. And the top reasons families are leaving is for better housing or wages elsewhere, or to be closer to family.
Yoshioka said the district is encouraged by the city of Pendleton’s efforts to increase housing, and in the meantime, it’s continuing to focus on making sure students aren’t unenrolling due to missing too many consecutive days of school.
While the state uses the fall membership report to determine how much funding it will provide each district, Yoshioka said the most recent dip in student enrollment shouldn’t affect the budget.
The Hermiston School District is facing the exact opposite trend: another year of significant enrollment growth.
The 5,766 students Hermiston recorded on Oct. 1 represented a 56-student bump from the year before. Although the Hermiston School District has grown by nearly 470 students in the past five years, the growth in 2018-19 is in line with the rise from 2016-17 and 2017-18.
The constant growth means the district has had to take steps like installing two new modular classrooms at Sunset Elementary School and Hermiston High School over spring break.
And while there’s been “growing pains,” Superintendent Tricia Mooney said, anticipated growth in Hermiston’s future means she expects the city’s student population will continue to grow along with it.
Besides Pendleton, all of Umatilla County’s school districts with enrollment of more than 1,000 students saw growth, with the Morrow County and Milton-Freewater Unified school districts seeing 41 and 39 more students than the year before, respectively.
Most of the smaller school districts either saw small bumps or dips, although the Pilot Rock School District saw the biggest drop, decreasing from 337 in 2017-18 to 317 in 2018-19.