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New students boost enrollment

ONE PIECE AT A TIME Employees for Stalker Sports Floors based out of Wisconsin replace the original Ely Memorial High School’s Gymnasium floor which sustained water damage earlier this year. Photo by Parker Loew.

K-12 total nearly identical, despite 19-student kindergarten class

by Tom Coombe

Even with a tiny incoming kindergarten class, enrollment in the Ely public schools is projected to be stable this fall.

School superintendent Anne Oelke said Monday that current grades K-12 enrollment is at 539 students, only one less than was on campus when the 2022-23 school year ended in May.

The relative stability comes despite an incoming kindergarten class of only 19 students - believed to be the smallest in the history of the Ely district.

At Monday’s regular school board session, Oelke said that the enrollment total may yet grow between now and the start of the school year in September, and noted that the district had budgeted for enrollment of just 515 students this fall.

Given the small incoming kindergarten group and an outgoing senior class of 42 students, enrollment was expected to tumble.

Instead, the district is holding its own with an influx of new students helping to offset the difference between outgrowing and incoming students.

“We grew, we definitely grew,” said Oelke. “When you look the outgoing senior class with 42 and then 19 (new kindergarten students) that’s a big gap there.”

Earlier in the month, the district held an enrollment open house - showing off its facilities and offerings to families.

It resulted in numerous new students.

Oelke said most were expected and had been preceded by earlier contact with the district, but the event also resulted in the enrollment of two other new students.

“So it was worth it,” said high school principal Jeff Carey.

“We did have two surprises,” said Oelke. “They saw it in the paper or saw it on Facebook and came in.”

School officials usually keep a close eye on enrollment totals, and student population is directly linked to school finances, including per  pupil state aid.

Student population that hovered around 500 at one point during the 2021-22 school year has bounced back  to a K-12 total of 545 at the start of the 2022-23 school year.

Over the last decade or so, enrollment has swung up and down in Ely after a much longer period of sharp declines.

From the mid-1990s to 2009, enrollment fell by 40 percent, falling from 921 to 538.

What followed was a slight period of growth, with the total climbing back to 596 by the start of the 2017-18 school  year, and then falling over the next five years.

Monday brought additional good news on the enrollment front, with reports that next year’s kindergarten class is expected to be in excess of 40 students.

“We’ll be back to normal classes,” said Carey.

In other business Monday, the board:

• Approved student handbooks for both the Washington and Memorial buildings for the 2023-24 school year.

• Authorized a two-year agreement with bus maintenance diesel mechanic Jeff Johnston.

It calls for hourly wages of $31.50 this year and $32.50 in 2024-25, with Johnston contracted to work 12 hours per week.

• Hired Rebecca Anderson, McCartney Kaercher, Jennifer Spanier, Traci Stevens, Catherine Mindel, Marlesa Fritz and Joseph Elliott for paraprofessional positions.

• Accepted the resignations of part-time cafeteria aide Cheryl Bialik and indigenous support interventionist Paige Falt.

• Posted a .4 FTE teaching position that is split between social studies and science classes.

• Approved the first reading of numerous policies.

• Heard that work has begun and is currently ahead of schedule on the gym floor replacement in the Memorial Building.

• Dissolved a girls swimming cooperative agreement with Northeast Range and entered into a new agreement with both Northeast Range and the Krekelberg Home School.

• Heard that there are nearly 150 participants in the district’s fall sports programs, which held opening practices earlier that day.

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