Dairies impact area school enrollment

Helena Rodriguez: Freedom Newspapers

At least three school districts in eastern New Mexico and neighboring West Texas expect enrollment increases this fall, largely due to the growing dairy industry as well as requirements for the No Child Left Behind Act.

Muleshoe, Grady and the Clovis Christian all expect slight enrollment increases, with Muleshoe installing eight portable buildings this summer to accommodate the increase.

Muleshoe Assistant Superintendent Don Wood said the No Child Left Behind act requires the district to expand a pre-K program from half a day to a full day and smaller class sizes for accelerated or remediation programs which also require more space.

Grady Schools Elizabeth Posey said the school district has experienced an 8 percent enrollment increase over the past five years, however, she did not attribute this to dairies.

Meanwhile, officials at school districts in Floyd, Dora and Portales say area dairies have contributed to earlier enrollment influxes which are helping them to maintain steady enrollments now.

Officials at Clovis, Melrose, Elida and Bovina school districts said the dairy industry has not directly affected their enrollment numbers significantly.

Muleshoe Schools has seen its enrollment increase by 51 students over the past three years, jumping from 1,430 students in 2002-2003 to 1,481 in 2004-2005.

“We have had a boost of enrollment due to the dairy industry coming into our area. With every new dairy, we gain approximately 20 to 25 kids,” Wood said. “We’ve seen an increase in dairies over the past three years and we anticipate even more dairies coming on line this year. A new one just opened up, another is going to open this year and then we also have a calving operation here.”

He said dairies have opened along the Cacahuate Road between Muleshoe and Portales as well as on the Clovis Highway and on West Camp Road. He also said dairy-related business such as trucking have also sprung up around Muleshoe.

According to Wood, most of the new students coming into Muleshoe are at the elementary age level and he also noted that many are Hispanic because of the clientele coming in to fill the dairy jobs.

“It’s too early to say if they are going to stick around. The industry is still too young to know if this is permanent of not,” Wood said. “But with an increase in Hispanic students, that does put an extra challenge before us. It’s hard to find bilingual teachers. At the same time, these kids also bring in extra funding (for the school district) to help us find these teachers, but overall, it’s definitely a greater challenge.”

Two portable buildings, each housing two classrooms, have been added to DeShazo Elementary School which houses third through fifth grades. Four portables have been added to Dillman Elementary, which houses pre-K to second grades and two portables have been added at the high school.

In Floyd, Superintendent Paul Benoit said that dairies have helped the school enrollment.

“Dairies are helping us to maintain a steady enrollment, but as far as influx, I think that has already occurred,” Benoit said. “I did a bus route survey the other day and I believe I passed about four dairies in the Floyd School District.”

In Dora, Superintendent Jim Reed said “I think we have a greater percentage now of students whose parents work at dairies than we did three or four years ago.”

However, Reed said that dairy students that the school district does gain usually only make up for the students that they loose, thus having only a gradual influence on the district’s enrollment.

In Portales, Trina Valdez, director of Federal Programs for Portales Schools, said there was an enrollment increase due to dairies years ago, but said that over the past five years it has been sustained.

At Clovis Christian, Superintendent Steven Medeiros said area dairies have been a contributing factor to the school district’s enrollment increase, although not the only factor.

“I know that within the past five years, our enrollment has probably gone up about 25 percent, and I attribute that to dairies as well as other people,” Medeiros said. “In the fall, I imagine that we will have between 260 to 265 students. That’s up from last year, between 5 and 10 percent.”

Medeiros said another contributing factor may be due to a trend in which parents want their children educated in private, Christian-based schools.