A school district's budget is a work in progress, for the most part -- a series of projections and then adjustments hinged on how many students come through the door.
Oct. 1 is a pivotal date, for by then students have settled in and districts have a firmer grasp of the year's enrollment and the revenues that follow.
In Forest Lake, the school district is reporting 6,664 students as of Oct. 4, or 13 fewer students than a year ago. But that is a welcome development for a school system that has seen enrollment declines of about 100 students annually in recent years -- and that budgeted for just such a decrease this year.
The district, as a result, may have about $680,000 more than it anticipated this year, funds that could be used to replenish reserves, rehire teachers or cover rising fuel costs. The district's finance committee, including citizens and staff and school board members, meets this month to consider possible adjustments. Additional tweaks could come in the spring.
As for the enrollment number itself, "We'd love to think that some of our competitive strategies are taking hold," said Larry Martini, the district's business manager.
Statewide, officials expect enrollment this year to grow an average of 1 percent.
South Washington County, the state's sixth-largest district, had 15,343 students in the fall of 2000. After a few years of minimal growth, the district has seen bigger bumps in recent years, spokeswoman Barbara Brown said.
Last year, the district purchased and expanded a building that it was leasing near Liberty Ridge Elementary in Woodbury. This fall, Liberty Ridge is up 49 students to 952 -- the biggest gain for any of the district's schools, Brown said.
She added that the district expects to see overall numbers continue to rise as Woodbury continues to develop and Cottage Grove grows, too.
In Mahtomedi, enrollment remains "very, very steady," Superintendent Mark Larson said. On the first day of school, Wildwood Elementary had 574 students this year, the same as last year, while at O.H. Anderson Elementary, the count was 675 students, down just one from a year ago, he said.
Next year, the district plans to open a new Wildwood Elementary building, and Larson again expects enrollment districtwide to stay the same.
In Forest Lake, as in many other districts, the budget for the 2012-13 school year was set last spring. That's when the district projected another loss of about 100 students. Now, with actual numbers, adjustments can be made.
District spokesman Ross Bennett said that this fall's numbers were encouraging because the district competes with two charter schools and a private school for its students. In addition, he said, home-schooling is popular in the area.
The district has yet to determine what led to the higher-than-projected student turnout. But Bennett noted that Lino Lakes Elementary, which last year garnered positive attention by becoming a STEM school emphasizing science, technology, engineering and math, saw an uptick in enrollment, from 408 to 437 students.
Anthony Lonetree • 651-925-5036