Enrollment down almost 400 students in Eugene 4J schools

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EUGENE, Ore. - The Eugene 4J School District has been losing students for about 20 years now, but it's never seen anything like this.

The district has consistently lost about 250 students each year, but this year enrollmente fell 389 students over last year.

By comparison, the Bethel School District lost 32 students. Springfield schools saw enrollment grow by 16.

Most private schools in the area saw their student populations filled to capacity. Tammy Conway, principal at O'Hara Catholic School, said they've been full for about 7 years now. Half of that time they've had a waiting list of more than 200 kids.

"4J has been a declining enrollment district for many years. We have fewer students each year for any number of reasons, it's hard to know exactly why," said Kerry Delf, communications coordinator for the Eugene 4J School District.

Delf said some of the students transferred to the new Coburg charter school, but others left for a variety of other reasons.

"We have an ongoing trend of having an aging population in Eugene and fewer young families coming into our schools," she said.

Though it's tough to pinpoint the exact cause for the change, Delf said she knows it'll impact the bottom line: fewer students mean schools receive less funding.

The district receives money based on the number of students, on average of $6,000. Multiply that by the 389 students lost this year and it means more than $230,000 less for Eugene schools.

That reality is a whole new challenge for the district. "So every year the district is trying to provide the same level of quality education to all of our students even though we're getting less funding from the state to do so," Delf said.

The district is still reeling from a brutal budgeting year. Dozens of teachers lost their jobs, forcing more classrooms to consolidate.

But the district said at this point, less money for students doesn't mean they'll have to lay off more teachers.

"We can't assume that the pattern won't change," Delf said. "We do do long-term projections and it's possible that this trend will level off. However we have been declining in enrollment for many years."

The Eugene 4J District's loss of 389 students out of last year's total student body population of 16,504 means about a 2.3 percent drop.

The loss of students has been less dramatic in the Bethel School District, where the loss of 32 students in a district with a total of 5,685 means a 0.6 percent drop. The Springfield School District actually increased this year, up 16 students from last year's number of 10,677 meaning a 0.2 percent increase.