Enrollment in the North Platte schools has dropped by 19 students since last year at this time, Finance Director Stuart Simpson told the school board Monday.

This year’s certified enrollment is 3,994 students as of Oct. 31 — the official date to certify school enrollment in Nebraska.

Enrollment has now declined for three years at the schools, with most of that reduction in 2016-17 when there were 119 fewer students than the year before. Enrollment was nearly steady in 2017-18, with only 3 fewer students.

Looking ahead, enrollment projections are not bright, according to estimates calculated by Simpson. Enrollment is expected to drop by another 74 students by 2020-21, if the trend continues.

Simpson said “we hope to reverse the trend,” but he keeps the trend in mind as he plans for coming years. The budget outlook is adjusted constantly, he said.

Simpson and Associate Superintendent Tami Eshleman said overall, district enrollment is pretty steady, averaging 4,022 students  per year for 20 years.

The board continues to look at ways to maximize the efficiency of the district’s buildings, according to the minutes of subcommittee meetings between board members and top administrators.  School board member Ivan Mitchell said facilities are discussed by the finance subcommittee every month.

Considering the ramifications of lower enrollment and the possible closure of Buffalo Elementary in 2019-20 that was discussed last May, Buffalo PTO President Rebecca Barton spoke to the board.

She said the district constantly faces financial challenges, but the administrative solution is often the same — consolidate or close schools.

She noted that in 2017, the district cut hours for the counseling and industrial arts staff, saving $30,000, but then gave administrators $50,000 in overall raises. She urged the board to find long-term solutions.

Barton said closing school buildings would not help students. She also asked the board to stop lining the pockets of the upper administration and said if Buffalo is closed and merged with Lincoln, her school children would probably leave the North Platte school district.

She said many other parents think and feel the same way she does. She said students often leave because schools and/or classes are too large.

Also during public comments, North Platte resident Bernice Ziegler, a spokeswoman for property taxpayers, noted that consideration of the superintendent’s pay package is underway. She said that how well the superintendent responds to concerns about high property taxes should be part of his annual evaluation by the board. She said school board members are elected to represent the taxpayers, and she wonders if property owners will always have “the albatross of high taxes around their necks.”

During discussion about enrollment, school board member Matt Pederson noted that most classrooms throughout the district have 20 students or less, with a few exceptions at the high school that need to be addressed.

“We are a bigger district, but not in class sizes,” he said. “Smaller classes are not a reason to opt out.”

Pederson urges realtors to let newcomers know about the relatively small class sizes. Also, he said North Platte High is only two classes short of offering students who qualify the opportunity to obtain an associate’s degree through dual-credit classes with Mid-Plains Community College.

“We can toot our own horn about that,” he said.

In the only vote of the 90-minute meeting, the board accepted the annual financial audit of the school district. Financial reports are above standards and auditors had nothing but good things to say about the situation, Pederson said.