New enrollment numbers, familiar hotspots

Statewide, K-12 enrollment is up more than 4,400 students from a year ago.

But, as usual, that trend is anything but uniform. Much of the growth has occurred in a handful of urban and suburban districts — where enrollment increases are pretty much an annual occurrence.

K-12 enrollment reached 295,218 statewide, according to fall enrollment figures compiled by the State Department of Education. A year ago, enrollment came in at 290,812.

But more than 60 districts and charter schools reported an enrollment decrease from last fall. For example, enrollment declined by 275 students at the Idaho Virtual Academy, a statewide online charter school.

Meanwhile, the growth hotspots should come as no surprise. The list includes several districts that have run recent bond issues to add new schools — and have relied on a mix of voter-approved supplemental property tax levies and district-approved emergency levies to try to stay ahead of the growth. (In September, 14 school districts approved nearly $8.7 million in emergency levies, which are triggered by increases in student attendance; click here to download data on these levies.)

Here are some growth thumbnails from around the state:

West Ada (Fall 2015, 37,479; fall 2014, 36,713. Up 766 students.)

Idaho’s largest district also netted the largest enrollment increase in the state. The continued growth illustrates a continued facilities need.

Lake Hazel Hallway 2
A crowded hallway in West Ada’s Lake Hazel Middle School. (Photo by Andrew Reed, Idaho Education News.)

In particular, West Ada is bracing for big enrollment increases in its already crowded high schools. The district now has 9,800 students in ninth through 12th grade — and 11,300 students in the middle school grades.

“You have a much bigger bubble coming up,” said district spokesman Eric Exline. “That’s significant.”

And that probably means another bond issue in the district’s future. Patrons approved a $96 million bond issue in March, which will accelerate a renovation project at Meridian High School. But the balance of the projects approved in March will alleviate crowding at the grade schools and middle schools — and won’t address looming pressure at the high schools.

Vallivue (Fall 2015, 8,176; fall 2014, 7,847. Up 329 students.)

The same residential growth that is driving enrollment in West Ada is affecting rural Canyon County.

“Vallivue is a bedroom community for surrounding communities, including people who commute to work in Boise, and I suspect that the growth in Vallivue reflects the population growth in the Boise Valley in general and the improvement in the local economy,” Superintendent Pat Charlton said this week.

Vallivue hired 21 additional teachers this fall — and has a couple of school projects in the pipeline. A new high school will open next fall, with room for 1,150 to 1,200 students, and in 2017, a new elementary school will open its doors to 800 students.

Coeur d’Alene (Fall 2015, 10,742; fall 2014, 10,450. Up 292 students.)

A good share of the growth can be traced to kindergarten. Coeur d’Alene offers all day kindergarten in four elementary schools, and parents are opting in. The district has 775 students in kindergarten, up about 50 students from past years, said Brian Wallace, the district’s director of finance and operations.

The growth intensifies the competition to hire and retain teachers — a challenge in a district that sits only a few miles from the Washington border. It’s an ongoing process. The district is paying for new teachers from a two-year, $30 million supplemental levy approved by voters in March, and this year’s $1.2 million emergency levy.

Twin Falls (Fall 2015, 9,032; fall 2014, 8,807. Up 225 students.)

Growth has become a norm in this Magic Valley district, fueled to a large extent by the Chobani yogurt plant on the eastern fringe of town. With Clif Bar building a manufacturing plant in the vicinity, growth is likely to continue.

The district anticipated this year’s growth ahead of time, hiring teachers during the spring. The district is also using its emergency levy to hire six teacher’s aides to help with grading and other classroom tasks.

“They’re easier to hire than teachers in the fall,” district spokeswoman Eva Craner said, “but I think it is still competitive.”

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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