Puyallup schools stanch the flow of students to surrounding districts

The Puyallup School District has significantly reduced a drain on student enrollment from four years ago, a new report shows. But it’s still costing the district about a quarter of a million dollars this year.

The School Board heard last week that the net loss of students has dropped from about 400 four years ago to 44 so far this year in Pierce County’s second-largest school district.

The figures take into account students who live in the Puyallup School District but choose to attend public school elsewhere and students from neighboring districts who opt into Puyallup schools.

This year, 934 outside students chose to attend school in Puyallup, while 978 Puyallup students chose to leave to attend school in other districts.

Under state law, parents can ask their local school district for a waiver to attend a public school outside their home district. The receiving district must agree to accept the student. State per-pupil funding follows the student to the new district.

The 44-student net loss in Puyallup this year amounts to more than $240,000 in lost state funding. Four years ago, Puyallup Assistant Superintendent Casey Cox said, the deficit was closer to $2 million.

Cox said the district began looking at the figures several years ago in an effort to reduce the exodus. He said officials did exit interviews with families leaving the district and learned that Puyallup was losing students to other districts that had programs Puyallup didn’t offer.

“Back at that time, a number of students were leaving for online schools,” Cox said.

Since Puyallup opened its own online program for high school-age students, the number going out of district for online education has dropped, he said.

“We made a number of changes to keep our own students,” Cox added.

Those changes include boosting Advanced Placement and pre-Advanced Placement offerings for high school students and enhancing the district’s program for younger highly capable students.

In addition, Puyallup also has a new dropout retrieval program designed for students who are between 18 and 21 years old. Cox said that program has boosted enrollment.

The Bethel School District sent the most students to Puyallup this year — a total of 559. Franklin Pierce accounted for 266 Puyallup-bound students, and 107 came from Tacoma.

Meawhile, Fife School District took the highest number of students from Puyallup — a total of 259. Another 130 Puyallup kids went to Sumner schools, and 81 went to Bethel schools.