Student enrollment may not have changed much in the Twin Cities metro area, but you wouldn’t know that if you stepped into schools in Minnetonka, Stillwater or other districts in between.
While overall metro school enrollment grew by only 3 percent in the past five years, some districts are scrambling to adjust to dramatic changes, according to a Star Tribune analysis of the latest state enrollment data.
In the Stillwater district, housing shifts have officials considering the closing of three schools, causing dramatic backlash from some parents and residents.
This school year, Ramsey Elementary in the Anoka-Hennepin School District is so full that more than 100 kindergartners had to to be diverted to Wilson Elementary 4 miles away in Anoka.
School officials say their forecasts have become more unpredictable because of demographic changes, open enrollment and charter schools.
The sometimes-unexpected enrollment shifts within their boundaries have caused districts to dramatically alter capital improvement plans, staffing levels and classroom sizes.
“It’s a competitive market out there because there is so much choice,” said Jim Liston, a Minneapolis official who helps set enrollment projections. “It used to be that we just looked at demographics but that’s not the case anymore.”
Growth hard to predict
Spring Lake Park, a small district near Mounds View, grew by more than 22 percent, from 4,700 students enrolled in the 2011-12 school year to more than 5,700 this year — the largest surge in the metro area.
Officials there predict their schools will continue to grow at that rate for the next 10 years, much of it because of growth in Blaine, where most of their students live. The district is making renovations to its high school and building a new prekindergarten through fourth-grade school to handle the increase.
Meanwhile, in Minnetonka, the district is seeing enrollment spikes from a rebounding postrecession real estate market and students who enroll from larger neighboring districts, including Hopkins, Eastern Carver County and Eden Prairie.
“Minnetonka has said, ‘We are going to be able to accept open enrollment up to a certain point,’ ” said district spokeswoman Janet Swiecichowski. “And then, once we reach that point, grade levels close or schools close [to incoming students] when they reach their capacity.”
Minneapolis, the state’s third-largest district, grew by 10 percent since 2011. But officials there predicted even bigger growth when they set projections in 2013.
“We were projecting a couple thousand more kids,” Liston said. “Now, we are just projecting a few hundred more.”
Officials there did not expect that as many as 17,000 students would opt for charter schools or neighboring districts, a trend especially evident in north Minneapolis. The shortfall forced the district to ditch a plan to build a new school and it halted any capital improvements that were planned because of projected growth.
Meanwhile, schools in southwest Minneapolis are growing rapidly. Washburn High School saw a 32 percent increase in enrollment since 2011, requiring additional classrooms that were not part of the district’s capital improvement plan.
Impact of housing
While Anoka-Hennepin, the state’s largest school district, has seen a slight decline in enrollment since 2011, kids are pouring into Dayton, Blaine and Andover, three cities within the district, as open land turns into housing developments and family homes.
“It was a little more dramatic than we thought this year, but we expect that trend to just keep continuing,” said Chuck Holden, Anoka-Hennepin’s chief operations officer.
The district has responded with nine planned or completed additions to elementary schools in those cities, said district spokesman Jim Skelly.
The resurgence is in stark contrast to dropping enrollment in 2009 that forced the district to close eight schools.
The southern end of the district — including parts of Brooklyn Park, Brooklyn Center, and Blaine — is stable, Holden said. But the district has seen a drop in enrollment at Coon Rapids High School, more than 11 percent since 2011.
The city is offering incentives for young families to move into Coon Rapids, a city with an aging population, and district officials expect the high school will see growth eventually.
It’s a similar story in Shakopee, a district where new growth is happening in southern areas, according to district spokesman Matt Thomas. Eagle Creek Elementary and Jackson Elementary have increased their enrollment by nearly a quarter since the 2011-12 school year.
Drops in St. Francis, Burnsville
Other metro schools have experienced steep declines.
St. Francis schools have seen an 11 percent enrollment drop, the largest in the metro in the past five years. Officials there attribute the falling numbers in large part to the birthrate decline in northern Anoka County and a smaller percent from southern Isanti County, according to superintendent Troy Ferguson.
“When 2008 hit, you can just see it happen,” he said. “They just stopped having as many children.”
Schools in the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage district are seeing declining numbers as well, officials said, as Burnsville lacks space for new developments and the population is aging. Many of the residents who moved to the district in the 1970s to raise kids are staying in their homes.
The district’s enrollment peaked two decades ago, with so many high school students that it moved the seniors into another space for half the school day to make room, said Lisa Rider, the school’s executive director of business service.
“Every community goes through that ebb and flow,” she said.