Kristina Begonja [submitted]

Enrollment at the Maricopa Unified School District is below initial projections, school officials said last week.

At an MUSD Governing Board meeting Wednesday, Superintendent Steve Chestnut presented figures for each of the district’s schools. The total showed the district is down from projections by 112 students.

Chestnut said missing the target by more than 100 students is concerning due to the amount of state funding the district receives per pupil. However, he said enrollment typically continues to grow through the fall.

Actual numbers are up compared to last spring, when district enrollment was 6,098. Today, it is 6,660, through the administration expected it to be around 6,772. Last year, enrollment was at its highest by Oct. 1, Chestnut said.

“The situation is not a crisis by any means, but it’s just something we will have to keep our eye on,” Chestnut said during his report.

Four MUSD schools are above projections: Maricopa Elementary School, Pima Butte Elementary, Saddleback Elementary and Desert Wind Middle School.

During the meeting’s call to the public, Butterfield Elementary School kindergarten teacher Kristina Begonja asked the board to reconsider its decision to transfer one kindergarten teacher from Butterfield – a school below enrollment projection – to Saddleback.

“As a teacher in this school district, I empathize for Saddleback and their higher class sizes. Like them, we want nothing but the best for our children,” Begonja said.

She urged the Board to instead hire a new kindergarten teacher from outside the district.

On Monday, MUSD Director of Human Resources Tom Beckett said staff at Butterfield Elementary came up with a solution.

Beckett said Butterfield received additional funds from the state this year due to their growth on the previous school year’s AZ Merit test.

“One of the ways the money can be spent is to hire additional staff,” Beckett said. “The Butterfield staff actually needed to vote on how the money should be spent, and the staff overwhelmingly supported the additional kindergarten position that was slated to be transferred to Saddleback Elementary.”

Beckett said the district recently began advertising for the position and hopes to fill the kindergarten vacancy in September.

Photo by Michelle Chance

Maricopa High School, despite having a freshman class of more than 600, is also experiencing lower enrollment than the district projected. A part of the reason why, Chestnut explained, is high school enrollment also includes students from the Ram Academy.

MHS is down by 78 students; 22 of those from Ram Academy.

One-hundred-twenty students are signed up with the alternative school, but many of those who have failed to attend are what some school officials refer to as “fifth-year seniors,” students who return to school after not graduating at the conclusion of 12th grade.

“They are primarily our fifth-year seniors, and sometimes our fifth-year seniors come up with a different plan,” Chestnut said.

Chestnut said MHS hopes to transfer students who could benefit from the alternative program from the traditional high school over to Ram Academy as the school year goes on.

As enrollment fluctuates across the district, Ram Academy is still waiting on the installation of a portable building that will house English and math classes.

Last week, workers dug trenches for utilities and installed skirting around the building. Chestnut said the district hopes the building will be open for student-use in a couple of weeks.

Until then, Assistant Principal Steve Ybarra has said students are temporarily using classrooms for those subjects on the main campus.