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Enrollments counter oil field slowdown

Posted 9/01/15 (Tue)

Enrollments counter oil field slowdown

By Cecile Krimm
Oil prices may remain in the dumps, but it’s not having the impact on school enrollments many feared.
“It’s not bad considering everyone’s ‘the sky is falling’ mentality,” said Suzanne LaMontagne, secretary for the Divide County School District.
In fact, nearly every school in the region is reporting multiple new families to replace any who left.
“This has probably been the most stable year we’ve had in the last five years,” said Superintendent Sherlock Hirning, Divide County, as far as total enrollment goes.
Hirning finds a net decrease of only three students compared to close of the school last spring confusing, based on what’s reported from the oil patch -- and also, considering how many new students have moved in.
“It’s interesting that we have 22 new students here that were not here over the summer and 12 that left,” he said.
“What really surprises me is where these new 22 kids are coming from,” given the apparent easing of the area’s housing shortage. 
It could be, Hirning agreed, that families are filling homes  previously occupied by single workers.
He notes that although the newspaper reported 369 students at the opening of school last fall, the number may be inaccurate. The district ended the last school year with 349 students.
In the neighboring Burke Central District in Lignite, the enrollment story was much the same as in Divide.
“We lost a bunch, but we also gained some,” said Sherry Lalum, superintendent.
“It’s odd,” she continued. “We just never know.”
With all of the talk of declining oil revenue, layoffs and cutbacks in new drilling, schools weren’t really expecting new faces.
Yet, in Westby, “We’re supposed to get four new students next week,” said Secretary Leanne Westgard, on top of the 63 students presently enrolled. Of those 63, 12 are new students.
Previously, Westby had not seen much impact from oil.
“We don’t have a lot of the transient stuff,” because of a lack of housing, Westgard said.
Grenora has picked up many more new students in recent years, but this year had a net change of only one student.
“It’s been pretty stable,” said Mary McMinn, secretary.
Ray and Powers Lakes, meanwhile, are two schools continuing to see significant growth.
Ray gained another 15 students last week over their opening day enrollment of 307, to sit at 322 students -- the highest enrollment in decades.
Powers Lake is up 12 students this year, from 164 at the close of the term last spring, to 177 last week.
Tioga is up 6 students over the close of the last school year, but down 12 compared to the start of classes last fall.
School officials say that type of fluctuation is typical in the early weeks of the term.
If kindergarten numbers hold up the next two years in Divide County Hirning believes the Divide district should see enrollment increases in the years to come.
After the classes of 2016 (17 students) and 2017 (11 students) graduate, all of the coming grades have at least 28 students.
“Every year a bigger class is coming in and a smaller class is leaving,” Hirning  said.
That’s going to cause pressure on the high school, he said, with two sections of more classes needed, yet not enough fulltime work  unless teachers can instruct across multiple subjects.