Enrollment falls in Mesa, Gilbert districts; rises in Chandler - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Education News

Enrollment falls in Mesa, Gilbert districts; rises in Chandler

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Posted: Monday, August 27, 2012 8:00 am | Updated: 12:30 pm, Tue Sep 4, 2012.

While the central parts of the East Valley are seeing a decline in student enrollment this year, outer school districts are reporting increases.

Arizona schools use the 10th day of school as a benchmark of sorts to determine what is happening in terms of enrollment. District enrollment on the 100th day is used to determine how much money the districts receive from the state.

In Mesa Unified School District, this year’s figure is about 900 students fewer than last year, continuing a downward trend the district has seen since about 2006. At the start of the 2005-2006 school year, the district had 74,000 students.

“We’re on track to be within a couple hundred of what we predicted out of 63,000,” students, said Joe O’Reilly, the district’s executive director for student-achievement support, research and evaluation. “We’ve added 32 teachers to adjust at schools where we’ve had more students than expected.”

Last year, the district saw a much smaller decline than it expected and needed to add more than 70 teachers in the first few weeks of school.

The district may still add teachers this year, as students from other parts of the country who move here realize classes have already begun.

“Now we just monitor class sizes and make sure they don’t get excessively large. If we do, we would add a teacher. A lot of that’s been done,” he said.

With the declining enrollment, Mesa has closed a handful of campuses over the past few years, including three junior high schools. The governing board decided not to consider elementary school closures this year.

For the first time, Gilbert Unified School District is reporting a decline. But, district spokeswoman Dianne Bowers said the figures are still “fluid.”

Chandler Unified School District saw the biggest increase in the East Valley, with an additional 761 students compared to this time last year. The district opened a new elementary campus this year, John and Carol Carlson Elementary School.

Much of its growth has been in the southern part of the district.

Higley Unified School District also saw an increase in enrollment, and Superintendent Denise Birdwell said that will continue for months. Because of new home construction going on in Higley, families could move in at any time, and possibly bring more students to the growing district.

Birdwell said the district expects to have 20,000 to 22,000 students eventually, nearly double its current enrollment.

“I need four more school sites,” she told the Tribune recently.

Voters in Higley could make some of that a reality in November. The district hopes affirmative votes on a capital outlay override and a plan to lease buildings will allow it to open two middle schools in fall 2013.

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