School enrollment up amid signs of slowing


Herald Writer

Enrollment continues to increase in most public school districts across Snohomish County but the growth rate has slowed from previous years.

There were 105,063 students in classrooms this fall, up from 103,551 at the same time last year, according to October enrollment counts compiled by the Northwest Educational Service District.

In general, the most dramatic growth continues to be north and east of Everett where land is more available and housing prices are often cheaper.

Districts tight for space, such as Arlington, Lakewood and Granite Falls, will get some relief in the years ahead after passing school construction bond measures that will add classrooms.

Others, such as Marysville, which added another 300 students this fall and has the highest enrollment of any high school in the state, are contemplating bond proposals. The enrollment increase was actually a little less than expected but space is at a premium at most schools.

"It kind of appears to have slowed down a bit but the indicators are for us to be ready," said Richard Eisenhauer, superintendent of the Marysville School District.

The district is closely monitoring sewer and utility extensions in the south end, which will mean more homes in the future.

Districts across the county have experienced enrollment increases over the past decade. They are part of a national "echo boom," the children of baby boomers, a post World War II generation of 75 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964 at an unprecedented growth rate.

Declining dropout rates and increasing immigration also figure into enrollment trends. Closer to home, Western Washington’s strong economy has contributed to the county’s growth.

Still, some large school districts with less available land to build are experiencing smaller growth and, in some cases, a leveling off or slight decline.

Everett’s enrollment dipped by 80 students since October a year ago.

"Whenever we have looked at this we have found that there is probably not just one contributing factor," said Jeff Riddle, deputy superintendent for the Everett School District.

In some areas, there is "the maturation process that neighborhoods go through" in which parents remain in their homes after their children graduate from school, Riddle said.

In the Snohomish School District, there was a sense of relief when enrollment increased by about 80 students this fall. The year before, there was a slight decrease when an increase was projected.

That’s a frightening possibility for any school district.

School districts receive money from the state on a per-pupil basis but must sign contracts with teachers each May. It is a tricky and high-stakes exercise that can spell financial trouble the following school year if the number of students falls short of projections.

The Snohomish School District was conservative in its estimates. It elected to begin the year with substitutes in some classes to make sure its projections were solid before hiring extra staff, said Betty Robertson, an assistant superintendent.

"If you have to make an error, it’s better to underestimate an enrollment," Robertson said.

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