It is hard to believe, but the Prescott Unified School District (PUSD) has completed the first quarter of the 2018-2019 school year. Our students were out on fall break last week, so please continue to be extra careful when driving in our community. Keep an eye out for those kids!
Last year was the first time in ten years that PUSD saw a boost in our enrollment numbers. We were very excited about this fact and were able to add to our budget some much needed support. But in the previous years, we have had to cut budget every year, often to the tune of a million dollars or more. This year, we are seeing a decline in enrollment, around 150 students. This means that we will again have to cut our budget significantly.
We keep close data at each school as to where students come from and go to. When charter schools are built in Arizona, unlike other states, there is no demographic study on the student capacity of the current buildings. Students simply leave the local public school for the new niche offered. New charter buildings are built and old district buildings are torn down. But our data shows that they come back. Our experience with charter schools, once built and filled, shows that students rotate in and out of schools around town. Our past few years of data has shown that the amount of students leaving for charter schools and the amount returning from charter schools is basically a wash.
So where are our students going? Our data shows that most of our student loss over the last couple of years has been families leaving for the Phoenix area or moving out of state. Many report to our principals that the high cost of housing in our community, coupled with a lack of jobs in the desired budget range, has pushed them that direction. Many of us have troubled over this scenario and I have certainly lost sleep over it.
A couple of weeks ago, our Prescott Chamber of Commerce hosted an area CEO summit. Around 30 area CEOs were in attendance, and the crux of the meeting was a sharing of “Champions and Challenges”. Each person shared what was going well and what was challenging. I shared my obvious “Champion,” which is that Prescott is incredibly supportive of its public schools, to the point that it rivals any community, any place. My “Challenge” was the above concern over the loss of families moving out of the area. A few others shared this concern, but what was largely said at the table gave me great hope that this economic problem can be turned around. Many of our Prescott leaders talked frankly about ways that are already in the works to bring innovation, start-ups and industry (and jobs) into our community. Others talked about projects under way and forthcoming to provide affordable housing. After what felt like many years of saying, “what about families… jobs, housing,” I heard that this problem is on the radar of our City, our Chamber and some of the most progressive thinkers in the area. I hope that we all join in as we address this challenge to provide community balance in the Prescott area.