Growth should continue for Austin Public Schools

Published 7:24 am Tuesday, March 23, 2010

If projections discussed by the Austin School Board Monday night are any indication, the school district should be looking forward to one key trend in particular — growth.

Based on numbers presented by an outside demographic consultant, Austin Public Schools should see enrollment grow by roughly 400 students in the next five years, and that’s based on the most modest of projections laid out during Monday’s meeting.

The district has already shown growth in the last four years — APS currently has 160 more students than in 2006 — which was atypical for a Minnesota school district in that timeframe, consulting demographer Hazel Reinhardt said.

Put those factors together, and APS officials will be tasked with making sure current school facilities keep up with the demand, superintendent David Krenz said.

“Do we have the space needed to meet program needs and expanded enrollment?” Krenz said.

To that end, the board on Monday approved a series of bids for a construction project at Ellis Middle School. That project includes the expansion of the school’s science labs and kitchen area, as well as the construction of a new multi-purpose gym.

The bids total roughly $3.9 million and will go toward general construction, plumbing and heating and electrical work. District officials hope to have the project done by next fall, for the start of the 2010-2011 school year.

But keeping up with a possible spike in enrollment isn’t all about building new space, Krenz said. The superintendent said making sure the district is efficiently utilizing current space — like a homeowner would with rooms in a house — is also essential.

Reinhardt, who does consulting work for many school districts but is working with Austin for the first time, agreed with that sentiment, saying that projections are a good tool for figuring out how to configure a school district’s space and resources.

“You want to know how to size it,” she said.

Reinhardt said several factors help explain why APS is projected to see growth. For one, kindergarten classes in recent years have been larger than 12th grade classes, which results in “natural growth” for the district as seniors graduate and leave the system.

Austin Public Schools also seemingly has very little competition, according to statistics. After subtracting area students who attend local private schools, public schools in other districts or are home-schooled, more than 85 percent of school-aged children living in the district attended an Austin Public School in 2009. And that high percentage has remained relatively consistent over the last few years.

The expected growth will likely be most notable among minority students, as that demographic group is expected to make up roughly 40 percent of the district’s enrollment in five years — up from 31 percent now.

Already, local public schools have seen a rapid expansion in the number of minority students. Since the beginning of the decade, minority student enrollment has increased by 152 percent. In that same time, the percentage of white students has decreased by 18 percent.

APS enrollment projections versus current

2009-10: 4,373 students

2014-15: 4,739-4,894 students*

2019-2020: 4,967-5,360 students*

*Range of numbers presented because different data combinations used in projections

Source: Austin School District Enrollment Projections, authored by Hazel Reinhardt

Minority enrollment at APS

2000-01

Total enrollment: 4,212

White: 3,666

Minority: 546

Percent minority: 13

2009-10

Total enrollment: 4,373

White: 2,998

Minority: 1,375

Percent minority: 31.4

Source: Austin School District Enrollment Projections, authored by Hazel Reinhardt