Belen dropout rates increase, graduation rates steady with fewer students

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Although dropout rates increased slightly and graduation rates remained the same, enrollment numbers in Belen Schools were what caught school administrators' attention.

A drop in the number of students attending Belen Schools means less state funding for the district for the 2013-14 school year, but school officials don't know how much money that will be until mid-April.

Since October of 2009, the number of students enrolled in the district has dropped by 514 students, from 4,765 to 4,251. About 83 of those students left the district between December 2012 and February.

"We don't fudge our numbers," said Kathy Roselli, the district's director of research, technology and accountability, to the Belen Board of Education during a February meeting.

"I'm really, very conscious about doing that … There were other districts who had some funding issues because they inflated their numbers and they had to turn around and actually pay money (back) because of their numbers."

Head counts from December and February are averaged out each year to pinpoint how much funding the New Mexico Public Education Department will give districts the following year, said George Perea, the district's director of business and finance.

But Perea said he won't know until mid-April when the district meets with PED to learn how much the district's funding will be cut.

Although a few Belen High School seniors transferred to other schools due to a lack of credits needed to graduate, it is not the primary driving force for students leaving, Roselli said.

The sagging economy and lack of jobs in Valencia County are forcing families to pack up and move to areas where there are employment opportunities, said Superintendent Ron Marquez.

"If you look around the county and the city of Belen, there's not a whole lot of economic opportunity for them, and it's a shame when we have families who have lived here all of their lives and say, 'We're picking up and moving to Kansas,'" Roselli added.

Some families have even returned to Mexico, where they can find jobs, Roselli said.

"Usually it's the other way around," she said.

But Belen Schools isn't the only district seeing a decline in students.

"I did talk to my counterparts in Los Lunas and they said that in the last five years they've lost almost 600 students," she said.

Belen High School's athletics, career technical education and extra curricular activities are not only keeping students in school, but drawing potential students to the district, said board member Larry Lindberg.

"Other schools in the area don't have big draws like that," Lindberg said.

Compared to 2009, the graduation rate hovered from 62 percent to 65 percent in 2010, 66 percent in 2011 and 62 percent in 2012.

These numbers are within the same range as those throughout the state, which include 66 percent in 2009, 67 percent in 2010, 63 percent in 2011 and 70 percent in 2012.

The graduation rate is more accurate than in previous years, since the rates are based on the number of students in a cohort, who began school four years earlier and graduated.

Previously, the graduation rate was based on the number of seniors, counted on the 40th day of school, who graduated that year.

Belen's dropout rates increased slightly above those reported for the state. Since 2004-05, Belen's dropout rates raised from 4.4 percent to 6.3 percent in 2011-12.

State dropout rates in 2004-05 were 3.7 percent, which increased to 4.9 percent in 2010-11.


-- Email the author at aortiz@news-bulletin.com.