Boise schools manage declining enrollment

The Boise School District is making plans to deal with the expected trend in declining enrollment that has become the norm over the past four years.

Boise’s enrollment of 22,601 has dropped 10% since the 2019-2020 school year — or 2,607 students — and projections say the trend will continue.

Boise’s public affairs administrator Dan Hollar said the district will cut 27 full-time positions — nine elementary school teachers, 17 secondary teachers and one assistant principal — this fall to prepare for fewer students and therefore less state funding.

“This is not a surprise to us,” Hollar said. “We compete by serving the students that we have, continuing to monitor what we need to do to better serve our community and making sure that we continually look for ways to improve and to better serve our families.”

Rising home prices, declining birth rates and an aging population are pushing families out of Boise and into the suburbs of Meridian, Star and Kuna where school districts are trying to managing exceptional growth.

“We’re seeing this in places like Denver and Salt Lake City — these Western cities where there’s a bunch of growth, but it’s not in the typical boundaries of the big city. It’s in the suburbs,” said Terry Ryan, CEO of the Bluum, a non-profit that manages charter school growth in Idaho.

Bluum CEO Terry Ryan
Bluum CEO Terry Ryan

Boise schools hired Davis Demographics in 2019 to conduct a 10-year student population projection. The conclusion of the 134-page analysis is that declining enrollment will continue, which is why Boise created plans to respond to this demographic shift.

The Boise School District peaked in 1997 with over 27,000 students. Over the subsequent 10 years, the district lost over 2,000 students, which was why in 2003, trustees agreed to opened enrollment to students from other districts. As of the spring of 2019, Boise served over 1,000 students primarily from bordering districts like West Ada.

“We’re focused on high quality comprehensive public schools, and making sure that we continue to provide services for our families where they need them most,” Hollar said.

This applies across the spectrum of subject matter and education levels. The 2021-2022 school year, for example, was the first year to offer full-day kindergarten for incoming students. For secondary students moving towards full-time work, Boise’s career and technical education program continues to expand enrollment.

The Dennis Tech Education Tech Center has grown from 862 to 1,384 students in the past five years, according to Hollar. This is driven by elevated demand for EMTs, nurses and other medical professionals, especially in rural communities and the expansion of programs to serve growing machining, mechatronics, cybersecurity, graphic design and heating and cooling tech fields.

Boise public affairs administrator Dan Hollar
Boise public affairs administrator Dan Hollar

“We work with industry partners to ask them, ‘What do you need?’” Hollar said. “The success of the program is tapping into what the needs of the community are, and so we’re certainly committed to that.”

Being “as competitive as they can be” means a commitment not only to STEM classes, but to programs that range from performing arts and music to a range of athletics. Boise’s subject-area classes extend to 31 AP courses per high school, which help to produce the most National Merit Semifinalists in the state.

Boise also aims to counsel and direct first-generation college students (including its significant refugee population) with an award-winning AVID program. Fairmont Junior High has achieved the status of a “Lighthouse School,” an AVID national demonstration school.

Despite fairly compact urban confines, Boise does offer pockets of growth. Next year, a new elementary school will open in the Dallas Harris area. Boise High, Capital High, Les Bois Junior High and Morley Nelson Elementary schools all increased in enrollment last year. And in anticipation of subdivision growth in the west and southwest, Boise has purchased about 40 acres near Cole Road.

Timberline High School's graduating class of 2023
Timberline High School’s class of 2023.

“In short, we are the first choice for the vast majority of families who want a top-notch education in successfully preparing their child for college, career and in life,” Hollar said.

Matt Denis

Matt Denis

Reporter Matt Denis is based in the Treasure Valley and has served as an educator and a journalist. Prior to national digital reporting and founding an arts and culture section in Eugene, Oregon, Matt worked as an English and history teacher in Detroit, San Diego, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. You can send news tips to [email protected].

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