Decline in students and increase in demands prompts strategic changes for Cherry Creek schools

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AURORA | The Cherry Creek School District will reduce staff and change the types of teachers it hires in response to a historic decrease in enrollment and a changing student demographic, according to Superintendent Scott Siegfried.

Siegfried said the changes will affect the district’s bottom line but shouldn’t be felt in the classroom.

CCSD is planning for the largest decline in student population in its 68-year history, according to Siegfried.

He said student population predictions will likely hand the school district a double whammy.

Not only are there expected to be fewer students, reducing state per-student contributions, but the district is expected to see a higher percentage of students who require more expensive, specialized instruction, officials said.  More students are predicted to require extra English instruction, special education and have mental health needs.

That leaves Cherry Creek officials coping with reduced funding but more unfunded mandates from the state to educate students with particular needs.

“This is a new day and new history for us,” Siegfried said last week.

To reduce stress on its budget, Siegfried will reduce hiring of teachers and prioritize specialized staff, while reducing the staff-to-student ratio in schools.

The change won’t have a measurable impact on the ratio of students to teachers in Cherry Creek, he said, because the staff reduction will also include librarians, deans, instructional coaches and principal’s assistants.

Cherry Creek teacher union President Scot Kaye did not offer an opinion on the changes and how they might impact teachers and students.

Currently, the 55,000-student school district aims for a ratio of 18.5 students to one staff member. That ratio will be increased by one-quarter of a percent for each school year, yielding $2.5 million each year, according to the district.

Those funds would be used to make progress on an existing budget shortfall for special needs programs with spiking demand.

Developmentally-impaired or learning-impaired students requiring special instruction have increased by near 800 students in the last four years. In addition, suicide-risk assessments for students spiked from about 1,300 to 2,100 – an indicator of more students with mental health issues requiring counseling or therapy.

Similarly, students learning English as a second language rose from about 3,500 to 5,100.

The number of gifted and talented students, who take on more advanced classes, also rose by about 200 students after several steady years.

As students require more special staff, including English teachers, counselors and mental health professionals, Cherry Creek receives little funding from the state government for these staff.

For Gifted and Talented instruction, for example, the district received about $500,000 in state and federal funding but spent over $5 million last year.

The population drain on the district could present further budget challenges for the district. The district expects to add about 200 students next year but projects shortfalls each year for over a decade. Last year, the district received over $7,600 per-student in state funding.

The student body decline is due to aging families in the western part of the school district near Littleton and fewer new families moving in. Siegfried said the district is buttressed by students from there and Douglas County who opt-in to Cherry Creek, and the eastern part of the district is booming with new housing developments requiring more schools.

However, the future of school finance in the state is uncertain as lawmakers consider changes to the per-student formula and constitutional amendments like the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights that limit the amount of tax revenue governments can spend. The changes could have major implications for money spent on school districts including Cherry Creek.