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Published August 28, 2013, 08:38 PM

More students fill Grand Forks schools, enrollment gain of 267 students

Attendance in the Grand Forks School District has risen for a third consecutive year, but not as much as school officials had predicted.

By: Robb Jeffries, Grand Forks Herald

Attendance in the Grand Forks School District has risen for a third consecutive year, but not as much as school officials had predicted.

Grand Forks Public Schools, which includes schools in Grand Forks and at Grand Forks Air Force Base, had 7,134 students enrolled on the opening day of school last week in kindergarten through 12th grade. This is an increase of 267 students over the 2011-12 opening day enrollment, but the district had anticipated a 300-student increase.

Assistant Superintendent Jody Thompson said the 300-student figure was given to school officials by a demographer, and he expects the district to reach that milestone yet this fall.

“We typically have additional students come into our schools in September, October and early November,” Thompson said.

District officials have cited enrollment growth as part of the reasons for a $6 million deficit and a proposed 28.6 percent increase in the district’s tax levy. The district is also planning a new south-end elementary school based on the growth trend.

The 3.9 percent enrollment increase will put a strain on a stretched district budget, Thompson said.

“You have to staff accordingly,” Thompson said. “In some cases, it might mean higher class sizes.”

He also said the cost of more materials, from desks and chairs to books, will have to come out of what the district already has since state aid is based on the previous year’s enrollment.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” Thompson said. “Of course we want new kids in our district … (but) we won’t see an increase in aid (to accommodate the enrollment jump) until next year.”

Enrollment in schools on Grand Forks Air Force Base remained nearly the same. Carl Ben Eielson and Nathan Twining schools added just three students between the two schools, compared with last fall.

Overall, enrollment in Grand Forks Public Schools has increased by 416 students since the beginning of the 2010-11 school year.

New school

The trend of increasing enrollment could help support plans to build a new elementary school on the city’s south side, Thompson said.

“When you do trend data, you use at least three years’ worth,” he said. “Now, it’s a trend.”

Delaying building a new school, as suggested by some residents at a public tax hearing earlier this month, would not be feasible because of the growth, Thompson said.

The new school would come with a price tag of around $15 million.

“To delay building a new school based on our enrollment projections would not work,” Thompson said. We know that there are going to be issues in the very near future for our south-end schools.”

No more room

The majority of this year’s enrollment jump was in the number of younger students. Elementary schools have 169 newly enrolled students, while there are five new middle school students and 93 high school students.

Elementary schools on the south end of town are very near their capacities, Thompson said. Century Elementary School has added 54 students — going from 572 students on the first day of school in 2012-13 to 626 this year — and Kelly Elementary School added 10 students since the first day of school in 2012.

“The reality is, we don’t have much more capacity at Century or Kelly,” Thompson said. “We couldn’t find an additional classroom at Century if we tried. And if you look at our projections, we are looking at needing to add multiple classrooms at Century very soon.”