Dist. 728 growth warrants at least 5 teachers

Board to authorize elementary teacher hires as administrators watch other hot spots

by Jim Boyle

Elk River Star News


Enrollment in the Elk River Area School District continues to rise, giving District 728 officials the confidence they needed to begin the process of hiring the equivalent of five more elementary school teachers between now and the start of school.

District officials are also monitoring several other elementary school enrollment hot spots to see if more staffing will be warranted either now or once school starts.

“We’re up 358 students,”  Director of Research and Assessment Joe Stangler told members of the Elk River Area School Board on Monday, Aug. 19.

By Thursday, Aug. 22, the district was up another 59 students.

“We’re pushing 13,000 students now,” Superintendent Mark Bezek told the Star News.

Greg Hein, the executive director of business services, had no qualms with adding the staff.

“The enrollment growth it is a benefit to the budget,” he said. “If the numbers hold and the trends hold, we should be able to support the additions.”

Stangler said the rising enrollment is confirmation of what building principals had been expressing over the summer.

“They have been getting more calls, and the callers have been more insistent,” Stangler said.

District officials said they do expect enrollment, if recent history repeats itself, to come down by about 60 students by Jan. 1. But the numbers have not started to fall as of yet.

The Elk River Area School District is projecting its biggest kindergarten class on record with nearly 1,000 students registered at this point, which is up about 100 students compared to last year.

“That’s  bright indicator for us,” Stangler said.

Kindergarten classes have been on the decline for the past four years, Stangler said.

Bezek said the district is cautiously optimistic it will be able to add more, but it has to be careful becuase once it does add the district owns those staff members for a year.

As a budget-reducing measure, the school district is aiming to have class sizes increase by 1 across the board. But they don’t want them increasing much more than that.

The new hires expecting to win approval at the Aug.  26 meeting will allow three elementary schools to add a section of kindergarten, a section of fourth grade will be added at Otsego Elementary School, and a section of fifth grade will be added at Hassan Elementary School.

Hot spots on the cusp of needing attention are kindergarten at two schools, first grade at two schools, second grade at two schools and one school’s third grade.

Last year at this time, the Elk River schools were experiencing a rare decline in enrollment after years of slight growth that had followed a decade sharp increases in enrollment growth. One significant factor was the expansion of Spectrum Charter School to a middle school as opposed to just a high school. The district also lost children to other districts who had all-day, every-day kindergarten.

As of Aug. 19, the district’s K-5 student population was up 165 students. The middle school population was up 118 students, and the senior high population was up 71 students.

Everything should shake out by October.

“Our Oct. 1 counts will provide us a strong basis for future facility  discussions,” Bezek said.