BEND, Ore. - For nearly three decades, Oregon's fastest-rowing large school district, Bend-La Pine Schools, has experienced significant enrollment growth – and the trend is expected to continue. As of Tuesday, 16,600 students were enrolled in the district's 27 schools and programs.
"That is an increase of 300 students since this time last year, and an increase of more than 750 students in the last three years," said Superintendent Ron Wilkinson. "To put that in perspective, our growth this year alone is the equivalent of nearly 12 classrooms full of students – or half of an elementary school."
Wilkinson said the district keeps a close eye on enrollment projections through its work with Portland State University's Center for Population Research and with the district's Sites and Facilities' volunteer committees.
"PSU predicts that in the next 10 years, our district will grow by another 3,000 students – or 125 classrooms," Wilkinson said. "If new schools are not constructed to relieve enrollment pressure, the continued growth can cause over-crowding that prematurely wears buildings out and strains common spaces shared by students – gyms, bathrooms, hallways."
Wilkinson says that every five years, the district convenes a Sites and Facilities committee and tasks them with looking at enrollment projections and facilities needs for the next 20 years.
"This proactive approach guides our work as we identify future opportunities to add classrooms where enrollment growth is the greatest," said Wilkinson. "Their latest recommendation points to an immediate need for one new elementary and one new middle school, which will allow the district to add capacity where enrollment growth is the greatest."
(The school district recently began considering plans for a spring ballot measure to fund those schools and upgrades to others, continuing a series of such bond measures at roughly the same property tax rate.)
Wilkinson said that while enrollment growth seems to be spread fairly evenly across the district, there is clearly a trend of larger overall numbers of students in the elementary grades today. Eleven of the district's 14 Bend-area elementary schools are currently near or over capacity.
"I believe the overall high performance of our staff and students is attracting more families to Bend-La Pine Schools than ever before," said Wilkinson. "Our students are outscoring their peers statewide on Oregon benchmarks, and are future ready and prepared for success after graduation."
Bend-La Pine Schools is currently Oregon's seventh-largest school district.