August 22, 2008

Growth Slows for City’s Public Schools ; Rate Is District’s Lowest Since 2002

By Elaine D. Briseo Journal Staff Writer

Preliminary enrollment figures show the growth rate in Rio Rancho Public Schools is well below the rates the district had experienced since 2002.

The first enrollment count for the 2008-2009 school year is 16,114, compared with 15,668 students a year ago. That's 446 more students this year, or about 2.8 percent increase.

Enrollment figures at the beginning of last year had increased 6.5 percent over the 2006-07 school year. From 2002 to 2007, 40th- day enrollment figures showed growth rates ranged from 5.5 to 8.85 percent.

Rio Rancho Public Schools spokeswoman Kim Vesely said it's hard to show exactly where growth has occurred this year because district officials redrew attendance boundaries in the spring. That has caused an increase in some schools and a drop in others.

The district also opened two new elementary schools, which is what prompted the change in attendance boundary lines. Cielo Azul opened in northwest Rio Rancho and Sandia Vista in the northeast part of town.

"There is growth in areas where there are new homes," Vesely said. "People are still buying new houses and moving into Rio Rancho despite the economy."

Some of the areas experiencing growth, Vesely said, include the Cabezon area, which feeds into Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary and Maggie Cordova Elementary. The area around Rio Rancho High, an area that feeds into Ernest Stapleton Elementary, is also growing as well as Northern Meadows. That affects Colinas del Norte and Cielo Azul.

Vesely said that although growth rate is lower, it's not the f irst time growth has slowed to this pace. She said at the turn of the millennium, growth was around 2 and 3 percent for three years. Demographers have told the district that growth will eventually level off at about 6 percent a year.

"We feel the slowdown is temporary," Vesely said. "As the economy improves, we will see the growth rate kick back up again."

The first day of class for Rio Rancho High and Rio Rancho Mid- High students was Aug. 12. Middle school students started Aug. 13, while elementary students spent the first week being individually tested and reported to class for the first time Monday.

Construction on the two new elementary schools is not 100 percent complete. Each school is waiting for its second classroom wing. Sandia Vista, because it has smaller enrollment, was able to fit all its students into one wing.

Cielo Azul, however, did not have the same luxury. The school has more than 700 students. Its kindergarten through second-grade students are attending school in portable on the Colinas del Norte campus.

Colinas principal LaVonna Archuleta said the arrangement has created some confusion for students and busing problems. Students attending school on the Cielo Azul campus and those on the Colinas campus are picked up at the same stop.

The bus drops the older students off at Cielo Azul and continues on to Colinas with the kindergarten through second-grade students.

The students who are within walking distance of Cielo Azul but have to attend school on the Colinas campus must walk to the school and catch a shuttle bus to Colinas.

"It's been confusing for the students," Archuleta said. "And it's hard for the parents, too."

Archuleta met with her staff Wednesday to get suggestions on ways to make the process easier for students and staff. She said the school has requested that the same bus number be used every day to shuttle the walking students to Colinas. Students who attend the Colinas campus will also wear a name tag indicating where they go after school. It would say whether they ride the bus, walk or go to the after-school program.

Bernalillo school numbers

Bernalillo Public Schools grew by about 75 students, according to preliminary enrollment numbers provided by the district.

The district currently has 3,232 students, compared to 3,157 a year ago.

BPS students returned to school Monday.

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