Dist. 728 expects largest group yet

Could be 350 students over last year

by Jim Boyle

Elk River Star News


The Elk River Area School District opened its doors Tuesday, Sept. 3, for the start of the 2013-14 school year for possibly its largest enrollment ever.

As of Monday, the district’s enrollment was at 13,006, which is up about 350 students from Aug. 20 of last year.

Enrollment numbers continue to change daily as more families enroll and the district learns of others who have decided to attend elsewhere.

This year the number of families adding their names to class lists  have far outnumbered those choosing to go elsewhere, a sign that the Elk River Area School District could be returning a growth pattern after dealing with several years of stagnant and declining enrollment issues.

District administrators know families have moved into the area because a recent demographic study completed last winter showed there were not as many births happening in the school district as previous years. There’s also some families who are open enrolling their kindergarten students.

“We were supposed to be flat,” said the administrator of testing and assessment, Joe Stangler. “That’s what we have projected and we projected for the next two years.”

In addition to families moving in, some of the gains are being attributed to parents choosing to have their students attend all-day, every-day kindergarten in Elk River Schools rather than elsewhere, now that the option is available at no cost to parents.

District officials are expecting its biggest crop of kindergarten students ever, possibly topping 1,000 students for the first time.

“There are currently seven grade levels in the school district with more than 1,000 students in them,” Stangler said. “Whether that holds remains to be seen.”

The Elk River Area School Board did approve some additional teacher staffing at the Aug. 26 meeting, and the administration is cautiously optimistic they will need to add more once school starts.

As a budget-cutting measure, the Elk River Area School Board agreed to adding staff based on class sizes going up by one. With the growth in enrollment, class sizes have now risen by more than one.

District officials were comfortable recommending the equivalent of 4.87 teachers to its rolls, but they not comfortable enough to add any more until they see students coming to school.

“Theoretically, we could be adding 10 more staff,” Superintendent Mark Bezek said.  “We’re adding half that now.

“We’re cautiously optimistic. More than likely we will be back with more requests.”

Jana Hennen-Burr, the assistant superintendent in charge of educational services, said the district has added staff after the start of school in past but tight space will also be a consideration this year.