Today, Park County School District No. 1 is teaching more kids than the school districts in Torrington, Lander, Douglas and Rawlins. In 2011, all of those districts had higher enrollments than Powell.
This fall, Powell school district’s enrollment hit its highest point over the past 10 years, with 1,837 students. That’s 161 students more than the 2008-09 school year — a nearly 10 percent increase.
“Even Cody, just 25 miles away, has been losing kids for years now,” said Jay Curtis, superintendent of Park County School District No. 1. Curtis said he doesn’t know what has led to the difference between the neighboring districts.
According to enrollment data released by the Wyoming Department of Education last week, the Powell school district is now the 13th largest out of 48 districts in the state.
Powell has 221 fewer students than Park County School District No. 6 in Cody, which ranks as the 12th largest district.
The city of Cody’s population is about 53 percent greater than Powell’s, with roughly 3,400 more residents. However, the Cody school district enrollment is only about 12 percent higher than Powell’s.
Enrollment is a key factor in determining state funding, so Powell hasn’t faced as significant budget cuts as Cody or other districts. Superintendent Curtis pointed to last year as a prime example.
“Cody, with a declining enrollment, had to cut a million dollars from their budget,” he said. “And Powell, with an increasing enrollment and really quite similar in size, … only had to find around $275,000, which is a whole lot better than a million.”
Over the past decade, Cody schools hit their highest point in 2011, when 2,208 students attended Park County School District No. 6. Since then, enrollment has dropped to 2,058 in Cody schools — a nearly 7 percent decrease.
Across Wyoming, enrollment in K-12 schools declined for the second straight year.
Statewide enrollment fell 0.3 percent — or by nearly 300 students — this fall compared to the previous year, with 92,976 students attending K-12 schools in Wyoming. Compared to 2015, there are 1,026 fewer students.
This year marked the first time in at least 10 years that Powell had more students than Rawlins (Carbon County School District No. 1), which lost 69 students over the last year.
Though Rawlins has roughly 2,600 more people than Powell, its school district now has 75 fewer students than Park County School District No. 1.
Powell school leaders haven’t been able to pinpoint exactly why enrollment has risen here in recent years.
Curtis said Powell is “a very desirable place to live.”
“I think that when you have a school system that is kind of making a name for itself in the state, there are people that move to Powell specifically to put their kids in the schools,” Curtis said.
Parents who have children with special needs have been drawn to Wyoming because of the quality special education services in schools, he added.
“Interestingly enough, we’ve had quite a few parents who have students in special ed that specifically come to Powell because of the services,” Curtis said, adding that the Powell school district has a “well-earned” reputation for serving kids with disabilities really well.
Curtis and his family moved to Powell this summer, and he said from an outsider’s perspective, “Powell is really kind of a special place.”
“One of the things we noticed just right off the bat in moving to Powell is how friendly and family-oriented the town is,” Curtis said. “And that’s not something you can manufacture, it’s not something you can make up.”
He said he didn’t want to speak ill of other communities, but Powell has a different feeling when you walk downtown.
“People are just overtly friendly,” Curtis said. “I just don’t think you find that everywhere.”
Statewide, Wyoming saw the highest number of K-12 students in 2015, when enrollment topped 94,000 students. While enrollment has dropped, this year’s count is still higher than some previous years. The lowest enrollment in the past 10 years was recorded in 2008, when Wyoming had 86,519 students statewide.
School districts submit their enrollment to the Wyoming Department of Education each October, and the state uses that data in its calculations for funding and other reports.