The Strong Schools, Strong Communities reorganization of St. Paul’s public schools that took hold in 2013-14 failed to deliver on Superintendent Valeria Silva’s vision of a 3,000-student enrollment increase.
The district, in fact, saw its student population drop by 1,734 students, or 4.6 percent, between 2005 and 2014.
Looking ahead, however, the district now anticipates an enrollment increase of 4.2 percent to 8.2 percent during the next 10 years, according to projections presented to school board members Tuesday.
“We are in the slow, steady growth mode,” said Joe Munnich, the district’s assistant director of research, evaluation and assessment.
St. Paul’s projections are part of a more ambitious take on its enrollment forecasts, and are an effort that coincides with a district study of its long-term facility needs. Similar studies by other east metro area school systems — South Washington County and Stillwater, for example — are expected to result in their voters being asked this year to approve bond proposals of as much as $180 million and $97 million, respectively.
No such ballot proposal is imminent in St. Paul, said Tom Parent, the district’s facilities director. He added that a committee now reviewing the district’s long-term facility needs is not likely to recommend a strategy for dealing with building and space issues for at least 10 months.
Currently, the district has a $30 million annual budget for facility improvements and construction.
To develop its new projections, the district contracted with Hazel Reinhardt, a former state demographer, at a cost of $23,500 to analyze the potential impact of housing patterns on enrollment. The city, for example, envisions new housing on the former Ford Motor Co. site in Highland Park as well as increased density along the Green Line light-rail corridor. The report presented Tuesday cited the city’s estimates of 2,600 new multifamily units in the next five years, and projected the addition of no more than 55 to 105 students from those developments.
Enrollment is expected to grow at a quicker pace in the second half of the 10-year period, the report states.
Still to come, perhaps next month, are school-by-school enrollment estimates.
Munnich said officials are pleased the district appears likely to be on stable footing regarding enrollment. That means, he added, that its ability to attract and retain students “is really in our hands.”
The 65-member panel created to review facility needs will begin working on its recommendations on Jan. 23.