Oregon experienced a spike in the number of students in public education this school year, but enrollment in North Coast schools has dropped, state figures showed Monday.
Whether the drop comes from a decrease in the number of people moving to the area or an increase in people moving away, school administrators say low-paying jobs and a high cost of living are driving families out of Clatsop County and to more stable economies.
"It's pretty much economic," said Doug Dougherty, Seaside School District superintendent. "We know right now that it's very difficult for some of our families to afford to live in our school district."
Overall, the state grew by nearly 7,000 elementary and secondary students this year - its biggest growth spurt in nearly a decade.
Much of that increase stems from a 10-percent jump in the number of Hispanic students at public schools, and growth has been highest in the suburban areas of Portland and Salem and in Bend, according to the Oregon Department of Education.
However, the Astoria School District lost 51 students this year, a 2.5-percent change.
And the Jewell School District decreased by five students, Warrenton-Hammond by 20 and Knappa by 28 (all 2 percent to 4 percent drops).
Seaside schools experienced the biggest drop locally, losing 99 students between this school year and last. That's a 5.9-percent decline.
Dougherty said it makes sense, considering Seaside has one of the highest student mobility ratings in the state.
"We're No. 1 or 2 in the state for transient families," Dougherty said. "We have many families who come to our area and find they cannot afford to live here through the school year."
It's not just about people leaving, said Astoria School District Superintendent Mike Sowder.
"I don't think families are having as many kids as they used to, and couples are having kids later," Sowder said, noting mid- to upper-range salaries are few in a community centered around the service industry. "Therefore people, and younger families, aren't moving in to the extent they used to."
In addition, the cost of living here is high, he said.
"The majority of the population is at retirement age, and the cost of houses, like in Astoria, is high," Sowder said. "Who can afford the houses? Retired people. We have very little affordable housing for younger couples."
The enrollment decline is a trend evident in Astoria, Seaside and nearly every other district along the Oregon coast, Seaside's superintendent pointed out.
"We've been studying the demographics throughout school districts along the coast," Dougherty said. "Out of those school districts, every single one is seeing a similar loss in school enrollment."
Sowder noted that aside from the Portland and Salem suburbs and Bend, most of the state's enrollment boost occurred along the Interstate-5 corridor. The Springfield, Eugene and Creswell school districts near I-5's southern stretch all showed growth, as did schools in Woodburn.
However, look west to the coast, and schools in Coos, Curry, Deschutes, Lincoln and Tillamook Counties mostly decreased in enrollment numbers, according to the state's figures.
"It's the same demographics causing it in all the small towns," Sowder said, again pointing to tourism-based economies.
Because the trend isn't new, the Astoria District has been budgeting for declining enrollment over the years, Sowder said. One of the biggest effects is on the district's financial plan, because fewer students means less money from the state, and less support for teachers and programs, he said.
In Seaside, schools are working to help students who move in and out mid-year, Dougherty said, and to streamline the process of transferring their records.
"With a transient population, there isn't much that a local school district can do," Dougherty said. "It's mainly because it's economic. It's a function of the local economy."