Forecasting school growth is no easy task

By By Dr. Marci Larsen | Apr 04, 2012

One of the key pieces of information that we need at this time of the year is the enrollment forecast for the following school year. Our planning depends on it.

Because the amount of money that we receive from the state is based on the number of students that we have in our classrooms, the enrollment forecast is a critical component of our budgeting process.

We also use the enrollment forecast to determine how many teachers we will hire next year and how many classrooms we will need.

Dr. Les Kendrick is an expert in the field of predicting school enrollment and has been a consultant for the Mukilteo School District for the past 15 years.

He recently gave a presentation at one of our school board meetings to explain a little about the process he goes through to arrive at an enrollment forecast and to tell us what he believes our enrollment will be next fall and into the future.

Like predicting what the stock market will do next year or what the weather will be next month, forecasting school enrollment could be a chancy undertaking. We really have no way of knowing exactly how many students will show up for school until they actually arrive and take a seat in a classroom.

But Kendrick reduces the risk of being wrong in his forecasts by taking into account a large range of different factors.

The birth rate is one indicator. Unless their parents move away in the next five years, we know that many of the babies that are born this year will probably arrive in kindergarten classrooms in about 2017.

Sales of new homes, the construction of multifamily housing units, private school enrollment, and population forecasts are also analyzed and considered to arrive at a forecast.

Our total enrollment has increased during the past few years, especially in our elementary schools. When I arrived at the Mukilteo School District in 2000, our total enrollment was about 13,500 students. This year, our total enrollment is about 14,500 students.

Within that increase, we have added about 500 students to our elementary schools in just the past five years. By way of comparison, the typical elementary school building in Mukilteo is designed to house between 600 and 650 students.

The number of students attending Mukilteo schools increased by about 200 two years ago, and by another 180 this past fall. According to Kendrick, we added more students to our schools last year than any other school district in Snohomish County.

Regarding the future, Kendrick estimates that our overall enrollment will increase by about 150 students next year and by about 1,000 more students in the next eight years. He predicts that the enrollment of our elementary schools will increase by another 300 students in the next five years.

In our effort to keep up with this growing enrollment, we have added 17 portable classrooms at our elementary schools during the past five years and we already have plans in place to add a couple more by next fall.

However, something more will likely need to be done. Our school board is now in the process of looking at our long-range facility needs to develop a plan for how to handle this growth.

You can expect to hear much more about this topic in the months to come.

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