IC schools growing, but at slower rate

By Gregg Hennigan

IOWA CITY — The Iowa City school district’s enrollment continues to grow, just not as fast as had been expected, according to a report released Friday.

As Geoffrey Smith, the University of Iowa graduate student who helps calculate the projections, put it, “Our growth has been accelerating, but it’s decelerating.”

Enrollment in all grades is projected to increase by 296 students next school year and an average of 246 students each of the following four years. Compared with last year’s report, the new projections are slightly higher for 2009 but about 100 students per year lower thereafter.

The report covers five years and is updated annually. It only includes resident regular education students and does not count certain special education students or students who open enroll into the district.

Resident student enrollment is 10,833 this year and is projected to hit 12,111 in 2013.

Enrollment is at the heart of several school-related issues that have been getting a lot of attention of late and in some cases have generated controversy. Those include enrollment disparities at City High and West High, the call by some for a new high school in the North Liberty area and the proposed closing of Roosevelt Elementary School.

Superintendent Lane Plugge has recommended against building a new high school in the next five years, saying enrollment is not growing fast enough, and in favor of closing Roosevelt and building a new elementary school in an area south of Coral Ridge Mall known as the Crossings.

Plugge said Friday the new demographic report reaffirms his position on those issues.

“I don’t find anything new here, except that it’s slowed down,” he said.

The report predicts that the biggest enrollment gains will continue to be at the elementary level, with the number of kindergartners expected to top 1,000 next year for the first time ever.

Also as in the past, much of the growth is expected to be in North Liberty and Coralville. For example, enrollment is projected to increase by 400 students in the North Central Junior High elementary attendance area and by 228 in the Northwest attendance area in the next five years, compared with 58 in the South East boundary.

For the high schools, City High’s enrollment is projected to stay relatively constant the next five years, whereas overcrowded West High’s is to increase an average of 68 students each year.

The report does not take into account a policy that closes West High to juniors and seniors new to the district.

Smith said he was not sure why the rate of growth has slowed but speculated the economic recession may be playing a role.

The projections are done by Smith and UI geography professor Gerard Rushton.

This year’s actual enrollment was 2.3 percent lower than what was projected.

The full report can be viewed here.

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