After marginal growth last year, enrollment at Bend-La Pine Schools jumped by a more typical amount, 1.5%, in an early enrollment count taken Tuesday.

The school district won’t have a final number until October, but so far, it has gained 283 students compared to October 2018, district officials said during their regular board meeting Tuesday. The district’s total preliminary enrollment is 18,711 students.

Last year, Bend-La Pine had a slight increase of 0.3% in students districtwide, or 53 students. This was the smallest enrollment increase in Bend-La Pine since 2009.

Brad Henry, Bend-La Pine’s director of operations and finance, said this year’s enrollment growth was more in line with what the district has seen for the past few decades. Since the 1989-90 school year, the school district has added an average of 320 students per year.

He said he was “somewhat relieved” that enrollment growth returned to a normal pace.

“I think growth is always better than the alternative of decline,” Henry said. “Growth is a good thing. It provides more funding. It allows us to hire more teachers.”

When the preliminary enrollment numbers were unveiled Tuesday, Superintendent Shay Mikalson said the school district had already hired seven new teachers to accommodate growth districtwide.

The school with the biggest enrollment jump was Summit High School, which added 155 students compared to last October. Henry said the school on Bend’s west side was expected to get bigger, although it still outpaced the school district’s projections by 59 students.

Jay Mathisen, Bend-La Pine’s deputy superintendent, said after the board meeting that the school district had brought in more teachers to Summit before the school year began in anticipation of an enrollment boom. Although the school is bigger than district leadership would like, the growth is still being contained, he said.

“There are more (students) in classrooms than we would want to be in classrooms,” Mathisen said. “There are more in those hallways than we would want. But we don’t quite need portables yet.”

Bend’s other two major high schools, Bend High and Mountain View, shrunk by 27 and 16 students, respectively. La Pine High School added 40 students.

In the 2018-19 academic year, all three of Bend’s large high schools lost students, with only La Pine High increasing enrollment.

North Star Elementary, which opened to students last week, had 287 students enrolled by Tuesday, according to the district. That is 56 more students than the district projected.

Three elementary schools saw reduced enrollment, partially due to North Star’s opening: High Lakes, Lava Ridge, and Ponderosa. High Lakes took the biggest hit, losing 69 students. Lava Ridge and Ponderosa shrunk by 20 and 52 students, respectively. Last year, all three schools were nearing capacity, and High Lakes exceeded its 600-student capacity by 22 students in the 2017-18 school year.

Henry said spreading out the elementary population was something district leadership hoped for when opening North Star.

“Ideally, we’re trying to get a lot of our elementaries down to 500 students, and I think we’re pretty close,” he said. “We’ll watch over the next two, three, four years to see how that all shakes out.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7854, jhogan@bendbulletin.com

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