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District enrollment growth slows

District 833's schools have the space to house its students for the next 10 years, according to an enrollment study.

Growth has slowed, but is still increasing by 1 percent a year over the past four years, said Mike Vogel, assistant to the superintendent for operations at the June 17 school board meeting.

The study, done by Hazel Reinhardt Consulting Services, reflects that the district is highly dependent on new housing starts to sustain enrollment growth.

There is an east to west pattern of housing aging, and those moving to new housing are the most likely, among people moving into the district, to have school-age children, according to the study by Hazel Reinhardt, who does enrollment analysis for 200 other districts, Vogel said.

New housing starts are not projected to increase until 2014, according the study.

The study shows middle school populations staying stable. The number of high school students continues to rise. East Ridge enrollment could rise faster than at the other two high schools, he said.

Schools on the east side of the district, with the exception of Cottage Grove Elementary, located in an area where new homes are being built, have declining enrollments. Enrollment is declining at Oltman Middle School, but it's stable or increasing at Woodbury, Cottage Grove and Lake middle schools, Vogel said.

Schools with declining enrollment could be used for alternative programs.

The district retains 82.5 percent of its students throughout their schooling, with some leaving for private schools, or schools outside of the district.

Board member Jim Gelbmann, said he questions why parents are not choosing to send kids to public school.

Last fall, Superintendent Mark Porter invited parents of students not enrolled in district schools to a meeting.

Parents make education choices and stay with them, he told board members.

Porter suggested the district look at increasing options for pre-kindergarten programs to draw parents in.

"We haven't paid attention to non-publics because of past space issues," Porter said. "We're not keeping up."

He said the district uses data from the study to predict enrollment. Financial planning, however, is done on the actual number of students in the district.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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