by Kurt Nesbitt

Contributing Writer

Enrollment in Elk River Area Schools met expectations over the summer and raised more questions from school board members Monday night, including whether or not the district might need another high school in 10 years.

They learned that earlier predictions, which said that ISD 728 would gain about 200 students a year, were correct.

The report, which tracks enrollment trends, came minutes after the school board previewed an online video for the district’s “I Am 728 Strong” campaign and heard another referendum campaign update from district leadership.

The board chose this summer to seek a $750 per-student levy increase and $113 million in bonds to address overdue maintenance for existing facilities and to build another middle school within the district.

Dr. Joe Stangler, director of research and assessment, gave the board an update of the enrollment activity that took place over the summer, beginning on the last Monday before Labor Day. He said the district has 262 more students, when they initially projected slightly over 200.

Since the end of the last school year, growth in the elementary grades has increased by 55 more students going into first-grade from kindergarten and 42 more going from first grade to second grade. Stangler said enrollment in the middle school grades is flat, but growth is coming from bigger classes. In the high schools, the class going from eighth grade into ninth grade grew, and the class going from 11th to 12th grew because students came back, mainly from Ivan Sand and Compass.

The three regions in the district stayed consistent with past patterns of growth. The middle part, which includes all of Elk River, saw no growth. The northern part, which includes Zimmerman, grew by 1%. The southern region that includes Rogers and Otsego, added 190 students over the summer. Stangler said enrollments continue to change and staff will keep tracking it. He mentioned 189 students were added since July 5 and characterized it as “typical summer growth.”

Stangler will give an update on enrollment in two weeks with building comparisons and an update on class sizes.

Director Joel Nelson asked Stangler if he thinks the referendum make sense, since officials are looking for funding to build a new middle school. Stangler said he thinks push will be coming, since previous predictions have come true. Nelson asked if the estimated growth of 200 students a year, which the district’s referendum efforts cite as a main reason for seeking new money from voters, is “conservative” and Stangler agreed that it is.

Superintendent Dan Bittman added that the growth explained in the report is “exactly what we’ve been planning for,” explaining that the middle school concept will provide the longest time — about seven to 10 years — and if officials had sought a referendum for another elementary school, they would probably go for another one quickly. Since buildings take about two to three years to build, that will mean a new middle school will be ready in time.

Nelson asked if there is enough capacity in the district’s three high schools to absorb the increase. Bittman said the plan to have a middle school would have to maximize space to accommodate increasing enrollment, and district officials will have to talk about a new high school in seven or eight years.

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