Everett schools dealing with surprisingly high enrollment

EVERETT — Enrollment in Everett Public Schools last fall turned out to be higher than all previous estimates led district officials to believe.

The growth is surprising, according to a report from a consultant hired by the district to track and project enrollment.

In October 2014, there were 401 more students in the district than the previous year.

It was the biggest increase in all of Snohomish County. Added together, there were only 85 more students in the county’s 14 school districts.

Everett’s disproportionate gain, mostly in the south part of the district, is adding new urgency to plans for the coming school year.

There is now a proposal to shift school boundaries, to move between 125-150 students from overcrowded Woodside Elementary to less-overcrowded Silver Lake Elementary.

Woodside’s October enrollment was 800 students, well more than the 564 students the school was built for.

“It doesn’t make the pain of growth go away, but it provides a more equitable distribution of pain,” said Mike Gunn, the district’s executive director of facilities and operations.

The boundary adjustment area encompasses a narrow strip of relatively new multi-family housing along Highway 527, near Murphy’s Corner in Mill Creek.

Increasing enrollment over the next 10 years also is informing the district and school board’s discussion of a potential capital bond issue for next year.

In 2014, voters twice narrowly rejected a $259 million capital bond issue which would have paid for two new schools and more classrooms in the district, plus major upgrades to North Middle School.

The bond failures have been attributed to a combination of a weak economy and lingering distrust over the school district’s decision to build a new $28.3 million administration building.

School board vice president Ted Wenta pointed out that while the district still has capital needs, putting a new bond on the ballot hasn’t been decided.

“A lot will depend on what happens at the state level,” Wenta said.

It is not known, however, how much money the Legislature will give to public schools from Initiative 1351, which mandates reduced class sizes, or from the Supreme Court’s McCleary decision, which requires the state to fully fund special education.

Until that’s resolved, “it’s kind of hard to make an informed decision” about a bond, Wenta said.

What is not in doubt is that the Everett school district is expected to see even more growth, especially in the south.

The Jan. 12 report by William L. Kendrick of Educational Data Solutions projects more than 4,000 housing units will be developed in the district by 2020, and that the total student population will rise to as many as 22,516 in 2024 from 19,221 this year.

The highest number the consultant projected for the current year was 19,146, still 279 fewer students than who actually showed up at school.

The state’s projection for this year was even lower, at 18,942.

The short-term solution to crowding has been to buy portable classrooms. The district has 84 of them this year, 12 of them at Woodside, and recently the school board approved the purchase of 16 more for the 2015-2016 school year.

Part of the reason for the planned boundary adjustment is to take the pressure off Woodside, because the latest projections have the school’s population rising to 881 by 2024, the biggest increase of all the district’s elementary schools.

Silver Lake is also over capacity, however, and its October headcount of 528 is expected to increase to 575 by 2024, even before adding in those students from Woodside.

Gunn said the district’s recent surge in growth may more likely be the result of a rebound from the recent housing bust, which caused enrollment to drop or not grow as quickly.

Another reason is an overall demographic shift as the grandchildren of the Baby Boom generation enter school ages. A lot of those children moved into the Everett school district in recent years.

“We’re getting more kindergarten enrollment than the birthrate would have predicted,” Gunn said.

Board president Pam LeSesne said her primary concern is that expected growth in the district doesn’t disproportionately affect the education of kids in overcrowded schools.

LeSesne, who grew up attending crowded schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District, said overcrowding “changes the whole dynamic of your education.”

“I don’t know of any parent who would automatically choose to put their child into a school that is overcrowded,” she said.

Chris Winters: 425-374-4165; cwinters@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @Chris_At_Herald.

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