Enrollment in Wallowa County public schools has been plummeting since the late 1990s and administrators warn that trend shows no sign of slowing.
Wallowa High School dropped to a 1A OSAA classification in 2002 and Joseph is scheduled to do the same next school year, forcing competition against smaller schools such as Jordan Valley and Cove and changing from 11-man football to 8-man football.
Enterprise has yet to drop to 1A, but as the largest school in the county it has the furthest to fall.
But enrollment projections put together by Principal Blake Carlsen show Enterprise High School will face the same fate no later than 2010. In 1996 Enterprise's peak enrollment was 641 students in grades kindergarten through 12th grade. Today that number has fallen to 386 students with Carlsen projecting another drop in enrollment between 2004 and 2010 to a total of 304 students, only 101 of those in the high school.
Similar trends can be seen at the other two schools in the county.
Joseph boasted a K-12 enrollment of 414 students in 1998 and is now downto 279 students. School superintendent Rich Graham has not projected Joseph's enrollment as far into the future as 2010, but does predict losses of 15 students each over the next two years.
At its peak enrollment in 1998, the Wallowa School District had 400 students. As of last week, it was down to 277 students.
Though Wallowa's K-12 numbers were up five students this year over last year, Superintendent/Principal John Nesemann said the trend points downward.
He sees smaller numbers of students in the lower grades, a bad sign for a district hoping to increase enrollment.
Enterprise School Superintendent Brad Royse, Graham, Nesemann and ESD Superintendent Ed Jensen made a joint presentation recently to the Wallowa County Rotary Club on the subject of declining enrollments.
Royse said families with children are moving out of the county, many out of Oregon.
He agrees with Nesemann, who said lower-level classes have fewer students than upper level classes. There are 15 students enrolled in first grade in Enterprise, but there are 45 seniors in Enterprise High School.
Royse said his teaching staff has been reduced from 46 instructors to 19.5 fulltime equivalent.