Post-recession boom? Meridian enrollment swells

It isn’t quite like the boom of a decade ago — when enrollment in the Meridian School District increased by 1,000 students or more every fall.

But the state’s largest school district is experiencing its biggest enrollment increase since before the recession, with some of the growing pains that go with it.

Tuesday’s enrollment came in at 36,269, compared to 35,619 a year ago.

The enrollment growth wasn’t unexpected, but it exceeded projections. The district had expected enrollment of 36,194.

As a result, the district is doing some scrambling to accommodate the new students, spokesman Eric Exline said.

Schools will add a few teachers to try to keep a lid on class size, and purchase some additional textbooks. In spots, desks are also at a premium — and are on order. Rocky Mountain High School, for example, is using every chair on hand, while waiting for a desk order to arrive.

Some financial help is on the way. The enrollment growth will allow Meridian to collect more from its emergency property tax levy. The amount is unknown, Exline said, since the district hasn’t yet certified the levy.

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The enrollment growth appeared to occur across the board, in elementary, middle school and high school levels, Exline said.

Growth is nothing new for the Meridian district; before the recession hit, enrollment routinely grew by more than 1,000 students a year, and grew by closer to 2,000 students per year during the housing and real estate boom of the mid-2000s.

But the growth comes as the district faces new funding pressures. The district’s budget reserves are nearly depleted, a two-year supplemental property tax levy will expire in 2014, and across-the-board federal budget cuts could lead to cuts in special education programs. Growth is, in a sense, an antidote to some of these budget woes — since new enrollment does come with state dollars attached.

But while Meridian routinely sought — and received — voter approval for building bond issues during the boom, the district has been trying to get by during the downturn. Superintendent Linda Clark says the district will probably seek a bond issue in 2014, its first since a $139 million bond issue passed in 2005.

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