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South metro schools see ups and downs in enrollment

  • Article by: SARA GLASSMAN
  • Star Tribune
  • November 13, 2012 - 11:59 PM

While kids are learning the three Rs in school, administrators are busy doing a math lesson of their own each fall.

Kids may learn to count in school, but the most important count to school districts is the changing totals of the kids themselves. It directly affects how much they receive in state aid and how much money they receive in local levies, which are imposed on a per-pupil basis.

According to preliminary data from the Minnesota Department of Education, the state enrollment figures remained relatively steady compared with 2011-12, decreasing from 839,426 students to 836,204 -- a drop of .38 percent.

South metro districts saw some growth -- around 2 percent in Shakopee, Prior Lake, Farmington and West St. Paul -- but also slight declines in Rosemount, Burnsville and Lakeville.

With diversity increasing statewide at a rate 1.97 percent for 2012-13, most districts in the metro area also experienced increases in their minority enrollment, regardless of fluctuations in overall numbers.

In Burnsville -- which saw a 6.23 percent increase in minority students even while it had a slight drop in overall enrollment -- spokesperson Ruth Dunn noted that the district has been "gradually becoming much more diverse in the past 10 years." She said it now educates students who speak 57 different languages at home, the three largest being English, Spanish and Somali.

The .38 percent drop in total enrollment statewide is paired with an increase in minority enrollment, which grew 1.97 percent, from 220,334 students to 224,672 who identified themselves as a minority.

This overall trend was fairly consistent throughout the Twin Cities metro area. Eden Prairie, for example, has seen its minority population grow 6.31 percent, even while its total enrollment declined by 1.49 percent.

Other suburbs

In the western suburbs, the Minnetonka School District saw the largest overall increase in enrollment, just over 4 percent. Janet Swiecichowski, executive director of communications for the district, attributes the growth to "outstanding educational options."

The 2012-13 kindergarten is the largest class in the history of the district. Swiecichowski credits the seven options offered -- full- and half-day kindergarten in both Spanish and Chinese language immersion as well as in English, plus a "Ready Start" kindergarten program especially for younger kids with summer birthdays. The district is finding that families are opting for an immersion program in increasing numbers -- 53 percent with this fall's kindergarten students.

"Minnetonka does not place caps on our enrollments in our specialty programs," she said, which has likely bolstered their enrollment. The language immersion program also continues to the middle school level, so it might pick up students from other districts who have gotten too old for their schools' programs.

Other specialty programs include recently revamped, rigorous academic opportunities in middle-school language arts and sciences and enriched fine arts opportunities at all grade levels, including music and theater.

At the other end of the spectrum is Eden Prairie, Bloomington and Hopkins, with a decline in enrollment of between 1 and 2 percent.

Elsewhere

Brooklyn Center saw one of the larger enrollment growths -- a 4.3 percent increase. To keep up with demand, Superintendent Keith Lester said the district hired two new elementary school teachers and closed open enrollment in July.

He credits the increase in part to the McKnight Grant for literacy, which provides $1 million a year for three years to programs for pre-K through third-graders, with training available for parents as well.

"People are seeing the program and saying 'wow'," said Lester. Though the enrollment increases were primarily at the elementary level, a teen parent program and soon-to-open child care center attracted 10 to 12 young mothers to the high school.

The opposite trend has been happening at the state's largest school district, Anoka-Hennepin. According to preliminary reports, it experienced a 5 percent decrease in enrollment over 2011-12. The decline wasn't a surprise.

"We projected a continual, slow, steady decline as part of the decline in the birthrate," said spokesperson Mary Olson, who noted the district's enrollment peaked in 2004. Despite the change, Anoka-Hennepin schools hired nearly 200 new teachers and had no layoffs.

Sara Glassman • 612-673-7177

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